Since the reign of George IV. all impedi-merits arising from pre-contracts to other persons have been abolished in England. No proceedings can be taken in order to compel the other party to solemnise the marriage, and the only remedy left to the party aggrieved is to bring an action on the contract for breach of promise of marriage. A promise of marriage need not necessarily be in words or in writing; the conduct of the parties, or a general definite understanding amongst their friends that they were engaged to be married, is sufficient to prove the engagement.
In an engagement between an adult person and a legal infant under twenty-one years of age, the adult person cannot bring an action against the person under age for breach of promise of marriage, because the infant is not bound by his promise; but the infant can bring an action for the breach of the promise made by the adult. When an infant becomes of age, in order successfully to sue him for his breach of promise some evidence of a new promise made since arriving at his majority must be given; a mere ratification of the promise made during infancy is not sufficient.
A married man may be sued on a promise to marry if the woman did not know that he was married at the time when the promise was made. A promise to marry must be interpreted as a promise to marry within a reasonable time; the defendant is not justified in keeping the plaintiff waiting for him year after year. It is equally open to a man to sue a woman for breach of promise.
It has been held that if, after a man has made a contract of marriage, the woman's character turns out to be different from what he had reason to think it was he may refuse to marry her without being liable to an action; and whether the infirmity is bodily or mental the reason is the same; it would be most mischievous to compel parties to marry who can never live happily together.
Nevertheless, the defendant will have great difficulty in getting out of his promise by disparaging himself, although it may tend to a reduction of the damages; but if his promise has been obtained by means of a false or fraudulent representation, if the lady is a person of doubtful virtue, or has deceived him as to her family, position, or former situation in life, his defence will avail him.
Most of these defences are also available to a female defendant, and in an action against a woman it will be a good defence for her to show that, after obtaining her promise to marry him, the plaintiff manifested a violent temper and threatened to ill-use her.
Lastly, it is open to either to show that the engagement had been broken off or allowed to drop, and that no corn spondence or any meetings between the panies had taken place for a twelvemonth or more.