How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Breach of promise to marry

[The final decision in Van Jaarsveld vs. Bridges 2010(4) SA 558 (SCA)]

In one of my previous articles I mentioned and briefly discussed that the abovementioned case had made newspaper headlines. In this case Bridges sued Van Jaarsveld for damages for iniuria and breach of contract.

The wedding was due to take place in January 2006, and in December 2005 the man sent the woman a text message terminating the engagement. The man in this case worked on a family farm, and the lady was the daughter of South African singer, Bless Bridges. The lady had in the past been married four times, of which all were unsuccessful. Less than a month after the termination of the engagement she had found another man.

Harms DP (Nugent, Van Heerden JJA, Majiedt and Seriti AJJA concurring) stated that the breach of promise could lead to sentimental damages only if it was wrongful in the delictual sense. The fact that the breach of promise alone was wrongful and without just cause did not mean that it was wrongful in the delictual sense, namely that it was injurious.

A wrongful act, in relation to a verbal or written communication, would be considered as an offensive or insulting nature. In determining whether or not the act complained of in court was wrongful, the court applied the criterion of reasonableness, and objective tests. To address words to another person that could harm the person’s self-esteem, but which were not objectively determined, insulting, therefore wrongful could not give rise to an action for iniuria.

By applying this test, it was held that the SMS sent by the Appellant to the Respondent was objectively neither insulting nor contumelious. Furthermore, the Respondent had not suffered financial loss during the year in question as in the same month that the wedding ceremony should have taken place, she signed a contract to do some work for a third party and received upfront payment that she kept even though she did not perform. Therefore, her claim for loss of income was dismissed by the High Court.

I often get calls from potential clients in my practise who want to sue somebody for breach of promise. Whilst I understand the frustration that may be experienced at the end of a marriage, the unfortunate reality of the matter is that it is not that easy to succeed in a claim of hundreds of thousands of rand against somebody who is not intent on fulfilling their promises.

As appears from the above decision, no claim in law exists other than actual expenses incurred in the preparing of the marriage. You can only actually sue for example for costs incurred in arranging the wedding celebration and other related costs, such as the hiring of the photographer etc, booking the venue etc. It would be unusual to be awarded damages for loss of income and other related expenses.


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