Legal-Ease: the legal rights of an abandoned fiancé

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TV shows and movies create stories about bride and groom disappearing just before wedding ceremonies. But the change of mind to get married can obviously happen any time after a couple has agreed to get married. If only one person decides that the wedding will not take place, the other person may experience immense grief.

When this extreme heartbreak occurs, the heartbroken partner can sometimes sue for monetary damages for emotional distress or extreme humiliation from the partner who annulled the marriage. These chases are called “heart balm” chases because they aim to soothe and heal the broken heart (like lip balm helps heal cracked lips).

Ohio generally does not allow lawsuits against heart balm. For example, the Ohio law that prohibits someone from suing another person for damages for breach of a marriage promise is commonly referred to as the “Ohio heart balm law.”

Essentially, if a planned marriage does not take place for whatever reason, neither partner can recover money from the other for the humiliation, embarrassment and heartache that is necessarily involved when only one person out of two decides to annul a marriage.

Interestingly, Ohio’s heart balm law does not prevent lawsuits against people who arrange marriages, as is customary for people of certain faiths and for some Ohioans with certain geographic roots. However, notably, most online dating platforms exclude legal action as a condition of using that platform.

Apart from claims for emotional distress, claims for the return of property provided to the other party in anticipation of marriage are a legitimate cause of action under Ohio law.

For example, several months ago my boyfriend Chuck bought an engagement ring for my friend Jena and proposed marriage. Jena accepted the ring and agreed to marry Chuck. Jena and Chuck’s deal to get married sounds a bit like a contract under Ohio law, but not exactly.

If Chuck gives in to cold feet and calls off the wedding after Chuck gives Jena the engagement ring, Chuck probably won’t get Jena’s engagement ring back if Jena wishes to keep the engagement ring. But, if Chuck has a valid reason to call off the wedding, like Chuck finding out that Jena wasn’t legally divorced from her first husband, then Chuck could get Jena’s engagement ring back.

However, if Jena called off the wedding before the big day (even if Jena had legitimate reasons to call off the wedding, such as Chuck’s infidelity), Jena would usually be required to return the engagement ring to Chuck. In other words, there’s no “I can keep this because you cheated on me while we were engaged” rule.

If Jena transferred ownership of a property to Chuck before the wedding in anticipation of the wedding, and the wedding does not take place for some reason, Chuck is generally responsible for returning that property to Jena.

Therefore, typically, abandoned lovers get their things back but cannot get money back for emotional distress or extreme humiliation.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agricultural matters in Northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to be used as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based on the specific facts and circumstances you are facing.

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