If your Fiancé breaks up with you, can you actually sue them? Well, if they broke their promise to marry you and refused to return the engagement ring, then YES!
You might think this is focused on women not returning rings, but you’re in for a big surprise! Women aren’t the only ones who get engagement rings because men have also been receiving rings in increasing numbers. Hold on though because we’re going to be talking about a lot more than just engagement rings here.
Breaking an engagement is a breach of contract
In Texas, you can sue your ex-fiancé for breach of promise to marry to get money, for return of gifts in contemplation of marriage, or both.
When the two of you were first engaged, someone proposed and the other person accepted the proposal. The proposal may have involved the exchange of a ring or some other gift. Does it sound like a contract? Good, because it is!
An agreement to be married is a valid and binding contract. If your ex-fiancé promised to marry you, and then broke off the engagement, then they have breached that contract.
—See Curtis v. Anderson, 106 S.W.3d 251, 253 (Tex. App.—Austin 2003, pet. denied)
If your initial thought is, “wow, this sounds petty,” then you might not realize how much money is at stake here. Remember that a lot of time, money, and other gifts can be invested into a marriage before you both say, “I do.”
How much money can you get from your ex-fiancé?
There are three types of damages you can recover if your ex-fiancé breached their promise to marry you: Economic, Noneconomic, and Exemplary.
Economic Damages – These are the most likely damages that you’ll be able to recover and are sometimes called “actual” damages. These damages aren’t going to get you more money than you’ve expended because they’re intended to compensate you for actual economic or financial loss.
The average cost of a wedding in Texas in 2023 is $30,200. Weddings aren’t planned overnight, so you probably started incurring expenses for your big day months, or even years, in advance. These might include deposits for the wedding venue, cake, caterer, photographer, DJ, or pretty much any other provable out of pocket expenses.
Because economic damages are for losses that you’ve directly suffered, you’ll probably prove them with receipts.
—See Definitions – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.001(4)
Noneconomic Damages – These are the less likely damages that you’ll be able to recover. These are the damages that you can’t exactly prove with receipts or out of pocket expenses. These might include mental or emotional pain or anguish, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, injury to reputation, and all other nonfinancial losses.
Obviously, these sorts of damages are going to be much harder to prove because there aren’t financial records to prove them. How do you prove that you’ve actually suffered this harm then? If you’ve had to undergo counseling, been diagnosed with depression/anxiety, or been placed on psychotropic medications, then these can be used to show your mental state and the harm to it.
—See Definitions – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.001(12)
Exemplary Damages – These types of damages are rarely awarded and you’re very unlikely to recover them. That’s not to say impossible, just unlikely. These damages are also called “punitive” damages and are meant to punish your ex-fiancé rather than just restore you for your losses.
Imagine this: your ex-fiancé had no intention of ever marrying you, but proposed solely so they could humiliate you by leaving you at the altar. Well, that’s called fraud. You could probably sue your ex-fiancé for fraud as an alternate theory and not just for breach of promise to marry.
Now imagine this: your ex-fiancé lost interest in your relationship, but rather than breaking up with you, they stayed in the relationship in order to string you along and watch your humiliation at the altar when they refused to say, “I do.” I’d argue that this would constitute malicious behavior.
Here’s why those two scenarios are relevant. If you want to recover exemplary damages, then you have to prove that your ex-fiancé committed fraud, malice, or gross negligence. It’s harder to win exemplary damages because you have to prove them by “clear and convincing evidence” (which is the same burden of proof to terminate someone’s parental rights) and the jury has to be unanimous in their award.
—See Standards for Recovery of Exemplary Damages – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.003
Does your ex-fiancé have to give back the engagement ring and other gifts?
If you gave your ex-fiancé an engagement ring, or any other gift, in contemplation of marriage, then you might be able to recover that property if your ex-fiancé breaches their promise to marry.
If you and your ex-fiancé have a written agreement regarding the disposition of the ring/gifts if the two of you don’t get married, then that agreement controls. However, any agreement must be in writing, and signed, to be enforceable. If it isn’t in writing, then we default to the Conditional-Gift Rule.
—See Promise or Agreement Must Be in Writing – Tex. Fam. Code § 1.108
“A gift to a person to whom the donor is engaged to be married, made in contemplation of marriage…is conditional; and on breach of the marriage engagement by the donee the property may be recovered by the donor.”
—See Curtis v. Anderson, 106 S.W.3d 251, 255 (Tex. App.—Austin 2003, pet. denied)
Notice how the rule applies to gifts and not just to rings? Courts have permitted the recovery of rings, personal property, and even real property (land/houses) given in contemplation of marriage under the Conditional Gift Rule.
Beware though that recovery under this rule requires that the donee/recipient be the breaching party. If you gave the gift, but you’re the one who breaks off the engagement, then you’re the breaching party and you’re not entitled to recover the ring or any gifts.
If your ex-fiancé fails to return the engagement ring or other gifts, then you’ll going to have to file a lawsuit to get them back.
Who pays the attorney’s fees?
If you’ve been around here awhile, then you know that you can recover attorney’s fees in very limited circumstances. You probably also remember that one of those circumstances where you’re permitted to recover attorney’s fees is for breach of an oral or written contract. Rejoice!
There are certain steps that you (and your attorney) will have to take in order to recover attorney’s fees from your ex-fiancé, but that’s going to have to be an entirely separate blog all together.
—See Procedure for Recovery of Attorney’s Fees – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem Code 38.002
How long do you have to file suit against your ex-fiancé?
For most breaches of contract, you have four years to file suit after the breach. A lawsuit for breach of promise to marry though must be filed against your ex-fiancé within one year of the breach.
—See Limitations Period – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.003
Deciding to file suit is not an easy choice, especially when you’re likely still mourning the loss of the relationship. Most people decide to simply move on from the pain before they start considering their options, but by then the one-year period has passed and it is too late.
Breaking off an engagement is emotionally devastating, but it doesn’t have to also be financially devastating.
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Family Law Division
1101 Broadway, Lubbock, Texas, 79401
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479