Valentine’s Day: Love, Chocolate and Litigation

Valentine’s Day brings thoughts of romance, love, and for some, chocolate. But romance and love can have a dark side, and this post will point out some of the legal issues that can arise when love goes awry.

Disputes over property and gifts acquired before marriage are common. A search in any legal database will pull up numerous cases on who gets the engagement ring, the dowry, or a substantial wedding gift such as a house. There is no hard and fast rule in these disputes it seems. Some courts have held that an engagement ring is a conditional gift, a symbol of the binding agreement to marry. Whoever ends the engagement forfeits their right to claim ownership of the ring. Others have ruled the ring is an unconditional gift, the property of the receiver upon acceptance, and that it need not be returned no matter who ended the engagement. See The engagement ring: whose property is it? and “Who gets the ring when couples split?” by Donnalee Moulton (January 26, 2017, The Lawyer’s Daily) for discussion of some recent cases.

In most provinces, if jilted, you can no longer bring an action for breach of promise to marry. Ontario abolished this cause of action in 1978. (See section 32 of the Marriage Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.3, enacted by the Marriage Act, 1977, S.O. 1977, c.42, s.32, proclaimed in force August 1, 1978.) However, you can still sue for breach of promise to marry in Alberta.

And, of course, crimes of passion and their resulting trials have occurred for centuries. One such case was the trial of Hamiltonian Evelyn Dick, who was charged with the murder of her husband and child in 1946. Several books have been written about this infamous case. You can find a list of these as well as a short version of the events in the Canadian Encyclopedia. There was a jury trial, an appeal and a retrial. Dick was found not guilty of the murder of her husband, but guilty of manslaughter in the death of her infant son. Her appeal was handled by J.J. Robinette, one of Canada’s greatest litigators. The appeal decision was reported at [1947] O.R. 105.

But this post, as with Valentine’s Day, needs to have a happy ending. Luckily, the law librarians of Congress have compiled a collection of posts related to love and the law from their blog, In Custodia Legis. Two of the posts are on the topic of chocolate! The posts on this blog are impeccably researched, often illustrated with historical photos from the Library of Congress’ extensive photo collections and contain numerous links for additional reading. Happy Valentine’s Day!