Legal-Ease: A jilted fiance’s legal rights

TV shows and movies create stories around brides or grooms disappearing right before wedding ceremonies. But the change of heart to marry can obviously happen any time after a couple agree to marry. If only one person decides that the marriage is not going to happen, the other person can experience immense heartbreak.

When that extreme heartbreak happens, the heartbroken partner may sometimes file a lawsuit for monetary damages for emotional distress or extreme humiliation from the partner who called off the wedding. These lawsuits are called “heart balm” lawsuits because they are intended to soothe and heal the broken heart (like lip balm helps to heal cracked lips).

Ohio generally does not allow heart balm lawsuits. Thus, Ohio’s law that precludes someone from suing another person for money damages for breaching a promise to marry is commonly called the “Ohio heart balm act”.

Essentially, if an anticipated wedding does not happen for whatever reason, neither partner can recover money from the other for the humiliation, embarrassment and heartbreak that necessarily is involved when only one of two people decide to call off a wedding.

Interestingly, the Ohio heart balm act does not preclude lawsuits against people who arrange marriages, as is customary for people of certain faiths and for some Ohioans with certain geographical roots. However, notably, most online dating platforms preclude heart balm lawsuits as a condition of use of that platform.

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

For example, several months ago, my buddy 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 agreement to marry each other is somewhat like a contract under Ohio law but not exactly.

If Chuck gives in to cold feet and calls off the wedding after Chuck gave Jena the engagement ring, Chuck is not likely to get the engagement ring back from Jena if Jena desires to keep the engagement ring. But, if Chuck has some justifiable reason for calling off the wedding, like if Chuck found out that Jena was not legally divorced from her first husband, then Chuck could recover the engagement ring from Jena.

However, if Jena calls off the wedding before the big day (even if Jena had legitimate reasons for calling off the wedding, like some infidelity by Chuck), Jena would generally be required to return the engagement ring to Chuck. In other words, there is no “I get to keep this because you cheated on me while we were engaged” rule.

If Jena transferred ownership of some property to Chuck before the wedding in anticipation of the wedding, and the wedding does not happen for whatever reason, Chuck is generally responsible to return that property to Jena.

Therefore, generally, jilted lovers get their stuff back but cannot recover money 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 agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.