Heartbreaks and Broken Promises: Breach of Promise to Marry

Breach of Promise to Marry

“The facts that culminated in this case started with dreams and hopes, followed by appropriate planning and serious endeavors, but terminated in frustration and, what is worse, complete public humiliation.”

— Wassmer v. Velez, G.R. No. L-20089, 26 December 1964

Broken Promise of the Hearts

The Family Code provides for both essential and formal requisites before a marriage becomes valid. One of the formal requisites provided is “a marriage ceremony which takes place with the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age.”1

In our country marriage ceremonies, or weddings, is a big event that is well-celebrated by two people whose hearts agreed to be united. A modern-day wedding calls for many preparations and entails more expenses: a pre-nuptial photoshoot, multiple makeup artists and hair stylists, gowns and suits tailored not only for the bride and groom as well as for their entourage, venues for both the ceremony and reception, and catering to satisfy the guests’ stomachs. During preparation, most couples survive different endeavors, while some have a change of heart and break off their engagement. Now, after all the preparations, what happens when the promise to marry has been broken? 

A “breach of promise to marry” refers to a legal claim made by one party against another who fails to fulfill a promise of marriage. This claim is based on the notion that an agreement or promise to marry creates certain expectations and reliance on the part of the promisee, and failing to fulfill this promise may result in damages. 

However, Philippine law does not recognize mere breach of promise to marry as a legal problem and “litigation to the sorrows caused by a broken heart and a broken promise must be discouraged.2 Thus, it is not enough that a promise to marry was broken.

As early as 1960, the Supreme Court has held that a breach of promise to marry is not an actionable wrong. There can be no legal remedy against a person who, without any bad faith, simply changed their heart’s desire. Thus, the law does not hold a person liable simply for failing to honor a promise.3

Remedies for a broken heart

Four years after, the Supreme Court ruled that damages to a broken engagement may be claimed wherein the person who walked out days prior to the wedding, despite all the preparations and publicity, acted palpably and unjustifiably contrary to good customs. In such case, the person who walked out should be held answerable in damages in accordance with Article 21 of the Civil Code of the Philippines4:

“ARTICLE 21. Any person who wilfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.”

Although the Supreme Court emphasized that a breach of a promise to marry is not an actionable wrong, but to be subject to the embarrassment and agony of being left at the altar after much preparation should not go unpunished by the law, and moral damages may be awarded.5

However, it was clarified that award of moral damages is not based on the mere breach of a promise to marry, but rather on Article 21 of the Civil Code. Accordingly, it is still not enough to just have a broken heart to be granted damages by the court.

Love, Heartbreak and Good Faith

In a more recent case, the Supreme Court revisited the concept of breach of promise to marry and the propriety of awarding damages. It was clarified that an award under Article 21 of the Civil Code requires that the claimant has acted in good faith.6

Good faith has been defined by the Supreme Court as “an intangible and abstract quality with no technical meaning or statutory definition, and it encompasses, among other things, an honest belief, the absence of malice and the absence of design to defraud or to seek an unconscionable advantage. An individuals personal good faith is a concept of his own mind and, therefore, may not conclusively be determined by his protestations alone. It implies honesty of intention, and freedom from knowledge of circumstances which ought to put the holder upon inquiry. The essence of good faith lies in an honest belief in the validity of ones right, ignorance of a superior claim, and absence of intention to overreach another.7

In sum, a breach of promise to marry is not actionable unless such breach is unjustifiably contrary to public policy and good customs. In such case, damages may be awarded given that the claimant has acted in good faith.

Healing Broken Hearts

They say money can’t solve problems, but there are cases when actual and moral damages are awarded to the injured party of a breach of promise to marry:

Actual damages are those which can be awarded if there were actual expenses incurred in relation to the promise. These are compensation for an injury and will supposedly put the injured party in the position in which they were before they were injured.8 The Supreme Court has awarded actual damages for the preparations and other expenses in consideration of the wedding such as, but not limited to, fees for application for marriage license, expenses for printing and distribution of invitations, expenses for the clothes of entourage, expenses for matrimonial bed, and expenses for bridal showers.9

Moral damages include physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar injury.10 Based on Article 21 of the Civil Code, the injury should be caused in a manner against morals, good customs, and public policy.

Although the pain from a broken promise to marry is not a ground to file a civil suit, one’s right to damages is still acknowledged by law which may help you towards your healing. 

Feel free to contact us for legal advice and assistance on taking a step towards your healing. 

Prepared by Meliza Gielvert Lualhati and Agatha Bernice Macalalad.


  1. Article 3(3) of the Family Code of the Philippines.  
  2. Guevarra, et al. v. Banach, G.R. No. 214016 (2021)
  3. Hermosisima v. Court of Appeals, 109 PHIL 629-635 (1960).
  4. Wassmer vs. Velez, 120 PHIL 1440-1447 (1964).
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Guevarra v. Banach, G.R. No. 214016 (2021).
  7. Philippine National Bank v. De Jesus, 458 Phil. 454 (2003).
  8. Empire East Land Holdings, Inc. v. Capitol Industrial Construction Groups, Inc., 588 Phil. 156, 170 (2008)
  9. Wassmer vs. Velez, 120 PHIL 1440-1447 (1964).
  10. Art. 2217, Civil Code of the Philippines.