Engagement called off just before the wedding? You can sue

An expert in Israeli complex divorce laws explains why even a happy and seemingly non-binding decision can still have legal consequences.

 A WEDDING canopy is seen against the backdrop scenery of the Mediterranean Sea. (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
A WEDDING canopy is seen against the backdrop scenery of the Mediterranean Sea.
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)

S. is a woman who recently filed a lawsuit in Israel's Family Court for NIS 120,000 against her former fiance, arguing that he falsely conveyed his intention to marry her.

Attorney Dalit Yaniv Messer, an expert in complex divorce laws, explains why even a happy and seemingly non-binding decision can still have legal consequences.

Today, many couples live together. Some of them take the time to look at their relationship during this period; some live together but don't plan for a future together; and others plan on fully formalizing their relationship by getting married.

But this raises the question: Is living together proof of a promise to get married?

The answer is complicated.

File photo: Divorce. (credit: REUTERS)File photo: Divorce. (credit: REUTERS)

What is a binding promise of getting married?

Court rulings state that not every hope or even statement of intent regarding a future together will be considered an engagement, a binding promise of getting married.

Likewise, just showing a desire to keep the relationship going doesn't always constitute being engaged. In other words, living together doesn't prove intent to get married.

Because of the reality of couples living together today, courts will only intervene when there is clear evidence of a serious commitment to getting married, something far beyond simply saying you want to do so. 

This would mean having sent wedding invitations, making serious inquiries about wedding venues, holding an engagement party and so on.

What does the law say?

There isn't a specific law that is broken when someone breaks off an engagement.

Rather, the Israeli legal system treats an engagement as a binding contract for all intents and purposes. Therefore, breaking the contract is grounds for a lawsuit.

As is the case with any lawsuit over a breached contract, the plaintiff claiming that the engagement was broken needs to prove that their former partner did, in fact, commit to getting married.

In other words, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that the engagement was like a contract, as stipulated in Section 2 of the Contracts Law.

What compensation can you get for breaking off an engagement and when can you get it?

The compensation claim for breaching a contract by breaking off an engagement is essentially compensation for emotional distress and humiliation.

If the plaintiff is a woman, she can also sue for damages to her chances of getting married and having children. 

It is also possible to claim financial damages.

In order to win this sort of claim, however, the plaintiff must prove that their partner fully consented and agreed to the engagement and that the couple had started preparing for their wedding.

When damages are caused due to breaking this committed engagement, the court will give appropriate compensation, with there being a tendency to give more support for monetary damages like wedding expenses.

Having said that, the courts also tend to decide on monetary compensations that aren't too expensive. This is due to the fear that people will get married against their will in order to make sure they won't get sued and forced to pay expensive compensation payments.

Does it matter why the wedding was canceled?

Yes, it absolutely matters.

It is important to check why the engagement was called off and to see if canceling the wedding was justified.

The court will examine to see if there was an issue in the agreement to get married.

What circumstances justify calling off a wedding?

If it is proven that canceling the wedding was justified, this defense will likely be accepted.

Justifiable reasons to call off a wedding include infidelity and a lack of trust; if one partner was sick and kept it secret; if one partner was in severe debt and never disclosed this, and so on.

What happens if the wedding venue is already booked? Who will pay the fine?

It depends.

Sometimes, the partner who canceled the wedding is the one responsible for paying the fine and other expenses. Other times, both partners will share the expenses and fines in equal parts.

If the partner who canceled the wedding doesn't agree to pay the fines and expenses, though, they can be sued for monetary damages.