Although a Wisconsin divorce court could not allow it, a Georgia court recently ordered a man to pay $50,000 to his “ex-fiancée,” ruling that a promise to marry is enforceable. http://gma.yahoo.com/ga-man-must-pay-50-000-breaking-engagement-003334233.html It is not clear how the court arrived this value, though an attorney speculates it represents 1/2 the value of a jointly-owned home. The Wisconsin legislature abolished lawsuits for breach of a contract to marry, so this outcome is not possible in Wisconsin. A fiancé(e) in Wisconsin could bring an suit for unjust enrichment under certain circumstances. However, the suit does not rest on a broken engagement, but rather on one party’s unfair accumulation of wealth through the other’s uncompensated efforts.
As I envisions a lawsuit like this, it strikes me that one of the main questions would be “what are the ex-fiancée’s damages?” Is it for mental or emotional distress? Or possibly, as suggested above, the loss of a job, income, etc. taken in reliance on the wedding promise? Given the high cost of weddings, I also could envision a scenario regarding a form of estoppel, which is a legal term providing a remedy when a party took some action and suffered harm by reasonable reliance on another’s promise. If a fiancée spent large amounts on a wedding, only to have it called off, perhaps arguments of this type could succeed.
Broken engagements, promises to marry, etc. are surprisingly common issues. Wisconsin divorce law would not apply, since those rules only apply once a marriage has actually occurred. I am often asked in Wisconsin divorce matters if the spouse’s engagement ring is exempt property, or if it is valued along with all other marital property. Although an engagement ring can be valued in a Wisconsin divorce, it is rare to do so. No matter how bitter the couple’s arguments may be, the engagement ring is almost always off-limits. Exceptions may occur is if the ring is extremely valuable, or if it is a family heirloom.