Dear John, I am considering asking my girlfriend to marry me this Valentine's Day. She is a wonderful girl and the light of my life. However, I wonder about cold feet. What if I can't bring myself to go through with actually marrying her? Will I have to pay for a wedding that never happens? Doesn't the bride's family pay for weddings?
The decision to marry is one of the most life-altering decisions a person can make. It is proper to weigh the pros and cons before deciding one way or another. I am sure many readers may say your question is a clear indication you are not ready to propose marriage.
Others may react by acknowledging the decision to marry is a leap of faith and doing it with the, "light of your life" is possibly the best road to bliss.
Regardless of where people fall in this spectrum, there are some legal aspects to your question.
The legal system is broken into two main categories, law and equity. Law is based on statutes and rules. Its purpose is to create order and stability in society by establishing predictable outcomes.
Equity looks at a given situation and strives to determine what is fair given the facts before it and what was done before in similar situations.
Legally, state statutes require contracts to be in writing. Equity looks for other evidence of a contract, such as action or other indicators of agreement. In the case of engagement, the clearest sign of agreement in our culture is a ring.
People generally know the significance of an engagement ring. Additionally, our culture understands the flurry of activity and spending that occurs after an engagement ring is given.
A court presented with a case of cold feet would not be allowed to require you to get married. However, it would be able to hold you financially responsible for a fair portion of expenses related to the engagement. You would be allowed to present facts about your situation in an effort to decrease the amount of financial responsibility you have.
For example, you could show e-mails to your fianc?copy;e saying she is spending too much, or the reason for ending the engagement.
I want to end by saying that cold feet are normal. I was married almost 19 years ago to my college sweetheart. My only job in preparing for the wedding was to show up on time. My groomsmen and I had a shot of tequila in the changing room and my feet were warm.
P.S. Happy Valentine's Day! I love you, Annee, and I thank God He brought you into my life.
John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only.