family law Resources

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Engagement

It is convenient to say a word about engagement, which in some societies is almost as solemn and carries almost as many responsibilities as marriage itself. This is not generally so in England, where an engagement is no more than an agreement between two parties that they will marry at some (often unspecified) future date. Such an agreement was formerly regarded as a contract between the parties, and breaking off an engagement could lead to an action for "breach of promise", but s.1 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 put an end to such actions by declaring that an agreement to marry is not an enforceable contract. The same Act clarifies certain aspects of property law in relation to engaged couples. Under s.3(1), a gift from one party to the other may be subject to an (express or implied) condition that it is to be returned if the marriage does not go ahead; if so, the condition applies no matter which party broke off the engagement. Under s.3(2), however, there is a rebuttable presumption that no such condition attaches to an engagement ring. Whether engagement gifts from third parties belong to one or both of the couple is a matter of the donor's intention, though where the donor is much closer to one than to the other, that may be useful evidence.

Section 2 addresses the beneficial interests of engaged couples in property they may have bought or worked on together, allowing the courts to determine such interests as if the couple had been married. The scope of this section is quite limited, however: it covers only those cases where an interest arises under the ordinary law of trusts, and does not give the courts the wide discretion they have in matrimonial cases.: