By Oluwatobi Olujobi
If you are one of those women whom a guy had promised to marry and the unserious fella reneged; as in after all the ‘I love yous’; after you refused all the serious guys that were chasing you for marriage and they had since married; after all the weekends of bliss at his place; after you and your mummy and pastor had quarreled on the matter; after you had fought with all your friends because of the guy; he suddenly became a spaceman, he said you should give him space; the guy said he was no longer interested; just like that. Please do not go violent, do not pour hot water on the guy, do not attack him physically or spiritually. There is another way to deal with him; guess what, you can sue the yeye guy.
A promise to marry is a contract which consists of a mutual promise or agreement between a man and a woman competent to enter the agreement, to marry at a future date. Consequently, the contract is not only fulfilled by the ceremony of marriage but also when the parties cohabit and live in realization of the status.
How does a contract to marry come into existence?
Like any commercial contract, a contract to marry may be created orally or in writing or by the conduct of the parties. A written contract to marry may be contained in a single or several instruments. In most cases, the contract may be gleamed from the exchange of personal correspondences. Please note, there must be an exchange of promises to marry leading to meeting of the minds of the parties. The promise of one party provides the consideration for the promise of the other. Additional consideration could come in any form. The promise to marry is more than saying, ‘I love you. I will do anything for you. I will die for you;’ etc. There must be an unequivocal promise to marry and acceptance by the other party. The aggrieved party would have to adduce evidence to corroborate the assertion of a promise of marriage.
Kindly note the that remedies available at common law for breach of promise to marry is in respect of a monogamous marriage or marriage under the Marriage Act.
Who can enter into a contract to marry?
A party to a contact under the monogamous system must possess the necessary capacity as discussed below –
(a) Single Status: a valid contract can only exist where the parties posses single status and not when a married man promised to marry a single lady or vice versa.
(b) Infant: at common law, an infant may enforce a contract to which he is a party but the infant cannot be sued on the contract as a defendant during his infancy except those in respect of necessaries. An agreement to marry is not a contract in respect of necessaries so an infant cannot enter into a contract to marry.
Who is an infant?
For the purpose of capacity to enter into a contract at common law and in this case, contract to marry, the age of twenty-one years is the age of capacity.
From the foregoing, it can be seen that at common law there exists a contract to marry and the capacity that must be possessed by such parties who enter into a valid contract to marry has also been discussed.
So what amounts to a breach of contract to marry?
At common law, two elements are necessary to constitute a breach of promise to marry. First, it must be proved to the satisfaction of the court that there was a promise of marriage under the Marriage Act. Second, it must be shown that one party to the agreement had failed or refused to honor this obligation.
The breach can happen in a couple of ways – where the other party refuses to celebrate the marriage at an appointed date or where a party to a contract to marry marries another person which is the common one that Naija guys do. You know some guys try to be civil and tell you one on one they are no longer interested but the yeye ones would not even tell you. Na picture of their wedding you go just see for Facebook. The worst is when it was one those friends that you fought with because of the guy that would tag you to the wedding picture.
Guess what again, if you found out that it was the guy’s mother who induced the breach of the contract to marry you, you can sue the mother. Even if it was the father, another lady, any of the friends; you can sue them all but you have to prove that they have knowledge of the promise to marry you and they induced the breach in bad faith. You know those people that would say ‘my son will not marry an Edo girl’, or ‘over my dead body, my son will not marry an Idoma girl’; sue them all. Abi na you choose your tribe?
It is worthy to note that the court will not force the guy to marry you even where you have proved your case. However, what the Nigerian courts will do is award damages to an aggrieved party when a claim for breach of promise to marry has been established.
You have to make sure your case is good before you come crying to the court. The court can see through crocodile tears. So you Ladies that misrepresent your social status; my father owns the airport, my uncle owns Shoprite, my father owns Nig Sat 1 Satellite, I am a banker and you are just a cleaner in the bank; or you have a terminal ailment and fail to disclose, or you cannot bear children and you know but you fail to disclose, you are 35 years and you told the guy you are 28 years, you told the guy you are a virgin but you had given birth to two bouncing baby boys already, you told the guy you live in Magodo but you live in Makoko, you are on your own; your suit will fail like failure if the guy ditches you on grounds of fraudulent inducement or misrepresentation as those defences are available to him in law as they are to you. Therefore, before trying to sue, make sure your case is solid. You have done maximum disclosure of necessary facts. There was no bad faith on your part and the truth was that the guy just decided to waste your time. We will let him know that ‘that time is money’. He will pay for wasting your time.
So Ladies, what is sauce for the geese is sauce for the gander. As you can sue, so can they.
My Ladies, we have not been doing this thing. A breach of contract to marry is still part of our law and is actionable. Some people had postulated that this part of our law is anachronistic. Ana kini? Please, it is not ana anything. It is good law. If they fail, let them pay. If the yeye guy thinks he can breach the contract to marry and walk away, na lie. Just ensure you have evidence to corroborate your claim like witnesses, text messages, emails, WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, LinkedIn posts, etc. Anything to show as evidence of the promise to marry and that you agreed to same and more importantly show that the parties intended a monogamous marriage under the act.
For the guys that proposed to you publicly, dose ones don enter one chance; na Ghana Must Go bag we go take collect damages that would be awarded by the court for breaking your golden heart. He will not do it again in his life.
Ladies, if they reneged on their promises, let us act on the promises.
Wilson V Ca rnley (1908) 1 KB 729, Spiers V Hunt (1908) 1 KB 720@ 724, Fender V St. John Mildmay (1938) AC 1, Section 39 of the Marriage Act.
See Aiyede V Norman Williams (1960) LLR 253, Cole V Cottingham(1837) ER 406.
See Uso V Iketubosin (1975) WRNLR 187.
Labinjo v Abake (1924) 5 NLR 33
Family in Nigeria, E.I. Nwogugu, Revised Edition Heineman educational Books ©2001
Nigerian Law of Contract, I.E. Sagay, Second Edition, Spectrum Books, ©2001
Olusanya v Ibadiran (1971) I UILR 149
Ezeanah v. Atta (2004) 7 NWLR (Pt. 873)468
Orumor. (11th October, 2016 ). The breach of promise to marry and its legal consequences – https://guardian.ng/features/the-breach-of-promise-to-marry-and-its-legal-consequences/