Promise To Marry

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Marriage is one of the biggest events in the lives of many. It is not just the husband and wife who are united in marriage but their families too or their clans even. In the past, marriage has been very instrumental in bringing peace between rival kingdoms or cementing their friendly relationship. It has been said that the role of princes and princesses is to become peace offerings to the enemies of the kingdom. What a role! But the same can be said among commoners. Marriage is not about true love, it was for a more practical reason or even survival. Our laws however, have evolved through the years so that an essential part of marriage is the consent of both parties which must be freely given. Through movies and soap operas, Filipinos have become acquainted with the concept of “marriage engagement” and there are men who have undertaken elaborate set ups to “pop the question” to their prospective wives. But does “engagement” have any legal significance in the legal system of the Philippines?

The Proposal

It appears that a proposal is when a guy asks the “question” to his prospective bride. If the future bride says yes then they are considered “engaged” and the girl wears a ring to serve as proof. The partners then refer to each other as “fiancee” (woman) or “fiancé” (man). Strangely, only the girl wears a ring as if to connote that she is now “tied” to a guy and of course our feminist friends are most likely to voice their resentment on this. This can be considered as a preparatory contract to another just like how a “contract to sell” is to a “contract of sale”. In engagement, however, there is no signed contract but only the ring to signify the agreement. In the movies, if the girl wants to terminate the engagement before the wedding she simply returns or throws away the expensive ring. And the drama begins. The concept of engagement, however, can be considered non existent in the Philippine legal system.

Engagement, Legally Inexistent

An engagement can be considered as a promise to marry and in case of breach can the “engaged” party go to court to enforce it? The Supreme Court in a 1933 decision said “NO”. The Court in that case declared that “the action for breach of promise to marry has no standing in the civil law” (de Jesus et. al. vs. Syquia G.R. L-39110). This means that no person can go to court to enforce a promise to marry and damages will not be awarded for mere breach. So in the 1993 case of Baksh vs. CA (G.R. No. 97336 February 19, 1993) the Court awarded moral damages to a woman who was found to have been enticed to have sexual relations with a man who promised to marry her. The Court awarded damages to the woman because deception was employed by the man which was the “proximate cause of the giving of herself unto him in a sexual congress”. This is based on Article 19 of the Civil Code which commands every person to “act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith” and not the breach of the promise to marry per se.

But why is a party who was promised marriage not given the remedy of enforcing it just like in any other contract? Marriage is not an ordinary contract and the Family Code in fact considers it as a “special contract”. Article 2 of the Code requires “consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer” for the validity of this special contract and enforcing a promise to marry goes against this. If the party is required against his or her will to marry because of an earlier promise, then consent is not present because he enters into marriage by reason of an order from the court. The earlier consent during the “engagement” cannot be considered as the consent required by Article 2 because the same was not made in the presence of a solemnizing officer.

Although not actionable, a promise of marriage should not be used to embarrass, insult, or break someone’s heart.