What Happens When the Wedding Is Called Off?
Calling off a wedding is a big decision. When a wedding is called off, it may be because of broken promises, cold feet, dishonesty, or finding out about someone's questionable past.
If both of the individuals agree to cancel the marriage, they may be able to work together to handle any issues about who has to pay for what and what to do about the canceled plans. If the separation is not amicable, it can be more difficult to manage paying off vendors and getting your property back. Before you can move on with your life, you may have to determine each party's entitlement to joint property and each party's responsibility for joint obligations.
Generally, any property that you acquired on your own during the engagement remains your property after you call off the wedding. Similarly, any debt that you obtained on your own remains yours after your engagement ends. This also applies to contracts for vendors and deposits made for the wedding that are only in one person's name.
However, in some cases, courts have divided property between unmarried cohabitants. For example, a 1976 court case in California resulted in the "Marvin Rules." These rules allow unmarried people who live together to enter into written contracts or oral contracts regarding the division of property. If the couple does not have an express contract, the court can determine if an implied contract exists. Even without an implied contract, the court may use the legal doctrines of equity and fairness to require a division of property. Other states have adopted the Marvin Rules in their entirety, and others only recognize written contracts.
The person who gets to keep the engagement ring depends on where you live and the circumstances under which you or your ex gave the ring. In some states, such as New York and Michigan, the courts consider engagement rings as conditional gifts that are given on condition of marriage. These states take a no-fault approach to engagements, similar to no-fault divorce. It does not matter who called off the wedding or the reason the wedding was called off. If the condition does not take place, the person who gifted the ring can get it back.
In other states, such as California, a wedding ring is like an implied conditional gift. The court may look at which party caused the broken engagement. If the party giving the ring ended the engagement, then the person who received the ring may be able to keep it. Likewise, if the person who received the ring broke the engagement, then the person who gave the ring can get it back.
Finally, some states, like Montana, consider an engagement ring to be an unconditional gift that does not legally have to be returned if a marriage does not occur. No matter who called off the ring, the person who received the ring can keep it.
Couples do not regularly make written contracts that specify what happens to the ring if the engagement does not end in marriage. If the couple does make a contract, like a prenuptial agreement, the courts will generally enforce the contract. Depending on your state's engagement ring laws, the best way to protect a large investment or a family heirloom generally requires making a contract or legal agreement.
Weddings can be expensive and take months or years to plan. This includes everything from finding the right venue, paying for food and drinks, getting flowers, buying a wedding cake, and hiring a photographer. Many wedding vendors require signing a written contract months before the actual wedding day. This can leave a lot of money tied up in the wedding planning.
If the wedding is called off, who is responsible for paying the vendors? In general, it depends on which state you live in and who signed the contracts. If only one person signed the contract with the wedding DJ and the contract has a no-cancellation policy, the person who signed the contract will still be on the hook for the DJ, even if there is no wedding.
If both parties of the wedding signed the contract, they may both be liable for the expenses. If one of the parents signs the contract for the florist, the parent may be financially liable for the bill, depending on the terms of the contract.
It is important to read your wedding vendor contracts carefully, including any cancelation policy. The vendors may be able to sue both parties for breach of contract if both parties signed the contract and did not pay the penalties or costs described in the contract for a wedding that does not occur. Breaking an engagement may not be as complicated as filing for divorce, but it can involve many of the same emotions and disputes. You may want to contact a family law attorney when entering into or ending an engagement.