AuthorJulien D. Payne/Marilyn A. Payne
Chapter 2
Engagements are a common prelude to marr iage. At the time when the
parties agree to m arry at some future d ate, they often exchange gifts as a
token of their commitment. e most common gi ft, of course, is the engage-
ment ring that is trad itionally given by t he prospective bridegroom to his
prospective bride. Not ever y engagement, however, results in marriage. e
parties may mutua lly agree to abandon their pl ans to marry. Or either of
them may unil aterally break o the engagement. At one time, it was p ossible
for the jilted lover to sue the other party for breach of promise of marriage.
ese actions have now been aboli shed in Australia, England, New Zeal and,
Scotland, and in se veral American states and Can adian provinces, including
British Columbia, Ma nitoba, and Ontario.1 Most people would agree t hat it is
better for an engagement to be broken tha n for a marriage to be entered into
after the par ties have second thoughts.
Statutory abolition of act ions for breach of promise of marriage does not inter-
fere with the remedies lega lly available to resolve property or other disputes
that arise on the termination of an engagement. For ex ample, an engaged
couple may have acquired property for their future married life together,
either from their individual or joint eorts. In these circumstances, if t he
1 See Patel v Patel, 2016 ABQB 64; Dupu is v Austin (1998), 168 DLR (4th) 215 (N BQB) (action
negated by s 15 of the Canadi an Charter of Rights and Freed oms).
Chapter 2: Marriage 15
engagement is subsequently broken o, either party may invoke established
legal doctri nes to determine their interest in the propert y. If it was a product
of their joint nanci al contributions, whether direct or indirect, the va lue of
the property will be shared between them. If it was acquired solely th rough
the eorts of one of the part ies, that person will be ex clusively entitled to the
property. e reason for terminat ing the engagement would be irrele vant to
any such clai ms. Dierent principles apply to gifts made i n contemplation of
marria ge, including the engagement ring. In the absence of e xpress statutory
provision to the contrar y, the general common law rule is that the engage-
ment ring is forfeited by the par ty who refused to honour the engagement.2 If
the woman breaks o t he engagement, she must return the ring. O n the other
hand, if the ma n breaks o the engagement, he cannot demand the retu rn of
the engagement ring. In Onta rio, the action for breach of promise of marr iage
was abolished in 1977 but section 33 of the Ontario Marr iage Act3 expressly
provides for the recovery of gi fts made in contemplation of marr iage. Pur-
suant to this statutory provision, where one person makes a g ift to another
“in contemplation of or conditiona l upon” their marriage to each other and
the marri age fails to take place or is abandoned, t he question of whether the
failure or abandonment was c aused by the fault of the donor is irrelevant to a
determination of the r ight of the donor to recover the gift. Whet her a gift has
been made in contemplation of or conditional upon m arriage is a question of
fact to be determined in light of the attendant circumstances.4 Birthday pre-
sents, for example, would not be regarded as conditional gifts. O n the other
hand, an engagement ri ng could properly be regarded as a pledge made in con-
templation of marr iage and should, therefore, be returned under the O ntario
statutory provision i f the intended marriage did not take pl ace.5
Gifts received from th ird parties in contemplation of mar riage, such as
wedding presents, are returnable to the donors if the marriage fails to ta ke
place for any reason.6
2 Seiler v Funk (1914), 32 OLR 9 9 (SC (AD)); Jacobs v Davis, [1917] 2 KB 532; Mc Arthur v
Zaduk (2001), 21 RFL ( 5th) 142 (Ont Sup Ct); Konopk a v O’Meara, 2011 ONSC 3 229; Cohen
v Sellar, [1926] 1 KB 536; Robinson v Cumming (1742), 26 ER 646; see a lso Zimmerman v
Lazare, 20 07 BCSC 626.
3 RSO 1990, c M.3; see a lso s 102 of the Family Law Act, SA 2003, c F-4.5.
4 See King v Mann, 202 0 ONSC 108, discusse d in Zalev & Frank s, “is Week in Fami ly
Law” (23 Marc h 2020), omson Reuters; and see Hood v Skauge, 2015 ABQB 47 6; see also
PS v HR, 2016 BCSC 20 71; Bath v Bath, 2002 NLCA 21 .
5 See Mastromatteo v Dayball, [2011] OJ No 1600 (Sup Ct); Newell v Alle n, 2012 ONSC 6681.
But see contra: Marcon v Cicchelli (199 3), 47 RFL (3d) 403 (Ont Gen D iv); for criticism of
this conclu sion, see JG McLeod, “Marcon v C icchelli,” Case Comment (1993) 47 R FL (3d)
411 at 412.
6 Jereys v Luck (192 2), 153 LTJ 139.

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