Only the Serious Need Apply: Breach of Promise to Marry In South Carolina

 

Breach of Promise to Marry is still a valid cause of action in South Carolina. Basic principles of contract law apply to a promise to marry, so don’t make that promise lightly!

While doing some research on another matter I can across the case Bradley v. Somers, 283 S.C. 365, 322 S.E.2d 665 (1984). It appears that Ms. Bradley was a housewife in a long-term marriage to an officer of reasonably high rank in the United States Navy. She entered into an illicit affair with Mr. Somers, a much lower ranking officer, who was also married. Both agreed to divorce their spouses and marry each other and live a life of bliss forever thereafter.

Wedding preparations were made in the usual course: expensive wedding bands purchased, flowers arranged, a  special wedding cake prepared, the right church selected, etc. On the day of the wedding Mr. Somers got cold feet. He told Ms. Bradley he could not go through with the marriage and there was another woman in his life. Ms. Bradley, looking to even the score, then sued Mr. Somers on a principle of contract law called “breach of promise to marry” and the matter was heard before a jury in Charleston.

The South Carolina Supreme Court found that even though this kind of action had been abolished in many other states, it was still good law in South Carolina and can only be modified by the legislature. They applied basic principles of contract law to the facts of the case: There was an offer to marry, an acceptance of the offer causing the formation of a contract, i.e. an agreement to marry, then reliance on the agreement to the detriment of Ms. Bradley when Mr. Somers backed out, or “breached”.

As recently as 2012 the holding in Bradley was followed by the Court of Appeals in Campbell v. Robinson, 398 S.C. 12, 726 S.E.2d 221 (Ct. App. 2012).  Campbell also holds an interesting ruling regarding an engagement ring, finding that it must be returned if the marriage is not fulfilled: “…an engagement ring by its very nature is a symbol of the donor’s continuing devotion to the donee… until the condition underlying the gift is fulfilled, the attempted gift is unenforceable and must be returned to the donor upon the donor’s request”.

A person who withdraws from an agreement to marry can be held liable in civil (not family) court to pay damages to the other party. Damages will not be limited to the direct costs of the wedding, but may also extend to compensation for loss of future opportunities. However, a person’s behavior leading up to the agreement to marry may limit the amount of damages they collect. Our courts are generally unforgiving when we put ourselves in a position that greatly contributes to resulting harm:  “… (Ms. Bradley) cannot recover damages for (Mr. Somers) inducement of her divorce because to do so would reward her for her own wrongdoing” .

Pending nuptials are serious matters, especially give the cost of today’s wedding event industry! Consultations with therapists, ministers, or other trusted individuals prior to making a marriage commitment, in addition to the careful drafting of a Prenuptial Agreement, will often bring to the decision making process the thoughtfulness and deliberation needed to make sure the best decision is made for both people.

 

 

 

 

 

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