The Civil Code regulates the framework for the legal relationships of private individuals, such as contracts. More romantic things, such as an engagement or marriage, are also recorded there. Find out what provisions our law provides for a marriage proposal and an engagement.
Which paragraphs of the German Civil Code are relevant for an engagement?
Engagements can be found in family law, right at the beginning of the part on civil marriage, in §§ 1297 -1302. Short and clear, §1300 was dropped in 1998.
The date is interesting in view of the former paragraph, because it regulated the damages that a “virgin woman” could demand if she allowed her fiancé to “accommodate” the prospect of marriage, but he then withdrew from the engagement. The background was that at the beginning of the last century it was still customary for a non-virgin bride to wear a straw wreath to the wedding; a myrtle wreath was reserved for a virgin.
The compensation, also referred to as “wreath money”, was granted because the chances of finding a husband of a suitable status were far lower for a “non-virgin” woman. It is all the more astonishing that this seemingly medieval paragraph, which completely ignored equality between men and women, existed almost until the turn of the millennium and was last used in a Hessian district court in 1980. An example of how slowly legislation sometimes reacts to social changes.
What rights and obligations result from the German Civil Code?
Most important is § 1297 BGB, which states that an engagement does not constitute an obligation to later marry and no penalty can be determined if no marriage is entered into. So an engagement is a wonderful promise, but it doesn’t mean you have to get married.
§ 1298 BGB states that in the event that the engagement is cancelled by one partner, he or she must compensate the other partner and his or her parents for the financial damage that arose in trust in the later marriage. Assets or measures relating to the partner’s employment position are also recorded. However, only where appropriate. This means: If, for example, one partner is wealthy and books a luxury trip around the world with the prospect of a future together, and the other breaks the engagement shortly before departure, then the full cancellation costs are certainly not reasonable. Costs for a wedding planner, on the other hand, are to be seen as reasonable and reimbursed accordingly. In addition, § 1298 BGB states that there is no liability for damages if the engagement is cancelled for an significant reason, for example if the other partner cheats and the engagement is therefore broken.
§ 1299 is the counterpart to § 1298, a partner causes the resignation of the other through misconduct, they are still obliged to pay damages themselves. Understandable, because everyone should only be responsible for what he or she can attribute to themselves.
§ 1301 regulates the return of gifts as part of the engagement, in practice it is mostly about the expensive engagement ring, the return of which can be demanded. The law calls this unjust enrichment. Anyone who is disengaged must return the piece of jewellery at the request of the other party. Mind you, not of your own accord, if you wear a beautiful engagement ring on your finger and want to keep it in the worst case, purely as an investment, you can simply wait and see whether the return is really required.
Finally, §1302 regulates the limitation period from §1297 – 1301, or its beginning, namely with the dissolution of the engagement. The period itself is three years according to § 195 BGB.
In short: when the engagement is broken off, gifts must be returned upon request and costs incurred by the other party and their parents because they trusted in a later marriage must be reimbursed, as long as the breakup was not caused by their own misconduct.
How can the withdrawal from the engagement be explained?
Just as informally as an engagement can be entered into with a phrase like “Will you marry me?” and an answer of “Yes.”, it can also be broken off. A simple “I don’t want to marry you anymore” is enough.
A tip: Don’t worry too much about the legal aspects of an engagement, because the regulations of the German Civil Code are manageable and correspond to what anyone with common sense would expect. The law tends to give the impression that something always goes wrong, but it doesn’t. The marriage proposal is one of the most beautiful moments in life, enjoy your engagement, because it is an expression of deep love and usually ends with a dreamlike wedding.