Breaking up legally: How not to be sued for breaking up

Statistics will show that it is highly improbable that your first romance would be your last. That means that most people would have broken up at least once in their lives. Breakups can leave lasting impressions. This post is about breaking up legally. It’s about how to break up without breaking any laws. And of course, how not to be sued for breaking up.

affection, board, broken

Breaking up is not punished by law, but…

Legally, breaking up is not punishable by law. In fact, the Supreme Court has actually decided cases on breaking up. Any first year law student will tell that there is no punishment for a breaking a promise to marry. The Supreme Court’s legal principle in Wassmer vs. Velez is something committed to memory that early in our law school lives: “A breach of a promise to marry per se is not an actionable wrong.”

“Generally a breach of a promise to marry per se is not an actionable wrong.”

If you are already engaged, and you decide to call off the marriage, there is no crime and there is no civil liability for damages. The Supreme Court made an exception to the rule. Breaking up is okay. But it is HOW you break up that determines if you have any legal liability.

The Supreme Court ruling tells us that breaking up in a way that willfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs, or public policy shall make the person liable for damages, even if the act is not contrary to law.

What happened in that case is that the engaged couple already had set a date and sent out formal invitations. The bride already bought her gown, party clothes, and dresses for the maid of honor and flower girl. An expensive matrimonial bed was bought. Bridal showers and gifts were given. But two days before the wedding, the groom disappeared, leaving behind a note that they should postpone the wedding because his mother was against it. The day before the wedding, he wired the bride that he would be returning soon. He never did. The Supreme Court said that going through all the preparations and publicity, only to walk out so close to it is “palpably and unjustifiably contrary to good customs.” The runaway groom was made to pay damages.

Is this case still good up to now?

This case was decided in 1964. It is still good law, and can be applied to both the man or the woman.

But these days, doing this could now put you in jail if you break up with a woman. This is because we now have R.A. No. 9262 – the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act, or “Anti-VAWC Law.” 

The Anti-VAWC Law doesn’t just cover engaged couples. It covers those in dating relationships, sexual relationships, and married couples. It punishes a person for engaging in purposeful or reckless conduct that causes substantial emotional or psychological distress to the woman.

When is breaking up a crime?

Breaking up is part of life. Yes, it can cause emotional and psychological distress to a woman. But the act of breaking up is not actionable by law. It is not done to a woman. Rather, the man cuts off his ties to the woman. He is doing the act for himself. Breaking up in itself is not a crime. It is HOW you break up with a woman which determines if your action is a crime or not.

Breaking up becomes legally punishable if a person breaks up with the woman in a purposefully abuse way or through reckless misconduct, which causes her substantial emotional or psychological distress.

What does this mean in actual practice?

If you decide to break up with somebody, be at your best behavior. Do not say something really bad or insult her. Be sensitive about her feelings. Try to give her closure and do not lead her on or make her expect something unrealistic from you. Be courteous and tactful, and learn to say “No” firmly but gently if she wants you to stay. You not only owe it to her because of what you shared together, but you should do all this to ensure she will not have any grounds to sue you for causing her psychological abuse.

Do not propose if you feel pressured because it is the next logical step in your relationship. If wedding preparations start getting serious and a lot of resources are expended, if you change your mind, you may end up in jail. Or worse – married.

Note again that is is not the break up being punished. It is HOW you break up that is punished. If your break up is done right, then there is nothing to worry about. Not only are you safe, but you did the responsible thing.

What about ghosting?

Ghosting is simply fading away without ending the relationship, but leaving it up to the person to cope with the disappearance. There are many who find this style of breaking off relationships appealing because it leaves everything in limbo and is almost perfect for confrontation avoidance. Many confrontation-averse men use this in their relationships.

Although psychological studies have found that the number of people who find ghosting an acceptable practice is increasing, it has largely remained frowned upon and is considered against good custom. This means that ghosting may make a person liable for psychological abuse particularly if the women left behind could point to clinical findings of depression and drug use in relation to the act of the person ghosting her. This is considered as reckless conduct that caused emotional or psychological distress.

Breakups through text messages?

This is somewhat acceptable these days, although most people would prefer that breakups be done face-to-face. Again, this style is used by the confrontation-averse.

As long as no insults are traded, there should be no criminal or civil liability. If the object is simply to break up, then informing the woman of a breakup by text or messaging apps is not a crime. There is no formal requirement for a breakup after all. It is only important that the breakup be made known without abusing one’s right of self-expression.

Of course, breaking up by text can be abusive too. It would depend on the timing.

Sending a breakup text in the middle of your partner’s career-making presentation before an international audience can be considered reckless or abusive when you know she would read it. It could wreck her disposition and lead to career-ending mistakes or even breakdowns.

How to protect yourself from being sued

Breaking up is normally done in private, without witnesses. In such casess, it would be easy for a woman to manufacture a violation of the Anti-VAWC Law even if there was none.

Yes, there are women who do this in an effort to get even.

How do you protect yourself?

Anecdotal evidence indicates that it is not safe to break up inside a car. Yes, whatever you do, don’t break up inside a car. Don’t do it even when parked. It is better to break up through text than to break up in a car. This is not just because of the risk of accident. It is also because it is easier to manufacture allegations of physical or psychological violence which occurred inside a car.

Break up in a public place, preferably one with a CCTV. This way, there will be evidence of a non-violent breakup. The presence of people also prevents both parties from getting too emotional, and preventing displays of emotion which could escalate in abusive behavior if done in private.

Whatever you do, be kind, sensitive, and tactful. Be a decent human being. Not only is it something you owe to the person you’re breaking up with, but helping your partner digest and understand why you cannot continue your relationship is something you are responsible for. You got into the relationship with her, so it is just fair that you give her the reasons why you want to end something she gave so much of her time and heart for. And you should do it with respect for her as somebody you love.

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