B. Property Disputes on Termination of Engagement

Author:Julien D. Payne - Marilyn A. Payne

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Statutory abolition of actions for breach of promise of marriage does not interfere with the remedies legally available to resolve property or other disputes that arise on the termination of an engagement. For example, an engaged couple may have acquired property for their future married life together, either from their individual or joint efforts. In these circumstances, if the engagement is subsequently broken off, either party may invoke established legal doctrines to determine their interest in the property. If it was a product of their joint financial contributions, whether direct or indirect, the

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value of the property will be shared between them. If it was acquired solely through the efforts of one of the parties, that person will be exclusively entitled to the property. The reason for terminating the engagement would be irrelevant to any such claims. Different principles apply to gifts made in contemplation of marriage, including the engagement ring. In the absence of express statutory provision to the contrary, the general common law rule is that the engagement ring is forfeited by the party who refused to honour the engagement.1If the woman breaks off the engagement, she must return the ring. On the other hand, if the man breaks off the engagement, he cannot demand the return of the engagement ring. In Ontario, the action for breach of promise of marriage was abolished in 1977 but section 33 of the Ontario Marriage Act2expressly provides for the recovery of gifts made in contemplation of marriage. Pursuant to this statutory provision, where one person makes a gift to another "in contemplation of or conditional upon" their marriage to each other and the marriage fails to take place or is abandoned, the question of whether the failure or abandonment was caused by the fault of the donor is irrelevant to a determination of the right of the donor to recover the gift. Whether a gift has been made in contemplation of or conditional upon marriage is a question of fact to be determined in light of the attendant circumstances. Birthday presents, for example, would not be regarded as conditional gifts. On the other hand, an engagement ring could properly be regarded as a pledge made in contemplation of marriage and should, therefore, be returned under the Ontario statutory provision if the intended marriage did not take place.3Gifts received from third parties in contemplation of marriage, such as wedding presents, are...

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