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Legal-Ease: A jilted fiance’s legal rights

TV shows and movies create stories about brides or grooms who disappear just before wedding ceremonies. But of course, the change of heart to marry can happen at any time after a couple has agreed to marry. If only one person decides that the marriage is not going to happen, the other person can experience immense grief.

When that extreme grief happens, the grieving partner can sometimes file a lawsuit for monetary damages for emotional distress or extreme humiliation of the partner who called off the wedding. These lawsuits are called “heart balm” lawsuits because they are meant to soothe and heal the broken heart (like lip balm helps heal chapped lips).

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

Essentially, if an anticipated wedding does not take place for whatever reason, neither partner can recover money from the other for the humiliation, embarrassment and heartache necessarily involved when only one of two people decides to have a to postpone the wedding.

Interestingly, the Ohio Heart Balm Act 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, most online dating platforms exclude heart balm lawsuits as a condition of using that platform.

Aside 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, a few months ago my partner Chuck bought my girlfriend Jena an engagement ring and proposed. 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 gives Jena the engagement ring, Chuck probably won’t get the engagement ring back from Jena if Jena wants to keep the engagement ring. But if Chuck has some legitimate reason to call off the wedding, such as if Chuck finds out that Jena is not legally divorced from her first husband, then Chuck can get the engagement ring from Jena.

However, if Jena calls off the wedding before the big day (even if Jena had legitimate reasons to call off the wedding, such as some infidelity by Chuck), Jena will usually be required to return the engagement ring to Chuck . In other words, there is no “I get to keep it because you cheated on me while we were engaged” line.

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

So usually mutilated lovers get their stuff back, but can’t 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 serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be obtained from the licensed attorney of your choice based on the specific facts and circumstances you face.

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