Most couples get engaged before marriage, but what happens if they don’t make it down the aisle?

There are some legal ramifications to consider when breaking off an engagement.

Before the Family Law Act 1981 came into effect, the happy announcement of an engagement was considered to be a legally binding contract. If the engagement was called off without any lawful justification, the person responsible for pulling out could be sued for damages for breach of promise. Since the 1981 Act, you can no longer take legal action for breach of promise following a broken engagement. However, if there is any dispute between the couple over property, finances and gifts, then the Family Law Act gives them the right to take legal action – this ramification isn’t just directly between the couple but is extended to third parties such as family members.

It is wise to remember that this only applies to engaged couples and not couples who live together – there is a different set of rules for cohabitees.

Engagement Gifts

The first thing we think about after popping the question is the ring – this is classed as a gift between an engaged couple – it could be a family heirloom or at the very least an expensive piece of jewellery; for traditionalists, an engagement ring should cost around three times their monthly salary so it’s not an insignificant sum. Unless it can be proven that the ring should be returned if the engagement is called off, then the wearer gets to keep it. This only applies to gifts given at the time of engagement and not before or after.

More often than not, an engagement party will be had, and guests will offer gifts for the happy couple. If the engagement is broken off then the gift can be returned if requested. Few people would ask for a set of egg cups or a toaster back, but if a significant cash sum has been given specifically as an engagement gift, then one consequence is that the third party can take legal action to get the money back.

Wedding Expenses

So, if the couple are still happily engaged and have made it as far as wedding preparations, a significant sum of money may already have been spent on the venue, catering, photographer, music, honeymoon and wedding attire. If one has paid more than the other, a consequence is that person may apply to the courts for compensation. This also applies to a third party such as family members who may have incurred considerable expenses and not benefitted from them.

Couple’s Home

Engaged couples do enjoy a rather unique legal status. When it comes to their home and one owns it but the other lives in it, the law says the couple must be treated as if they were married and are now separating or divorcing. The court is also obliged to investigate their respective contributions to the property; very relevant if the non-owner has spent their own money on improving or renovating the property but their name isn’t on the title deeds. However, this special status and it’s ramifications only lasts for the three years after the end of the engagement and only applies to a property in which both had a beneficial interest.

Do you need support?

Here at Arlingsworth Solicitors, we understand how upsetting a marriage breakdown and
subsequent divorce can be, especially when matrimonial assets and child arrangements are involved.

arrangements. We specialise be providing first-class legal support on all aspects of broken engagements and our dedicated team of experts are on hand 24/7 to provide professional legal advice and guidance.

Please contact our Brighton office on: +44 (0) 1273 696962 or our London office on: +44 (0) 203 3580058. Alternatively, request a callback, or email You can also follow us on social media for any other important news and updates.