It was all so romantic at the time. The food, the wine, the flattering lighting and that breathtaking engagement ring were enough to convince you that the person across the table from you was The One, the person you wanted to commit to, to build a life with, to raise children with. But in the cold light of early March, you realize you have made a mistake. Can you break it off? What about the ring?
The Illinois General Assembly’s overhaul of marriage and dissolution of marriage laws last year included the repeal of the state’s “heart balm laws.” In all of the explanations of the law change, the heart balm laws received relatively little attention. The sense was that they were a little outdated, more so than the state’s approach to parenting time. The Breach of Promise Act, Alienation of Affections Act and Criminal Conversation Act were relics of the past, quaintly harkening back to the days of hobble skirts and fainting couches.
The title of these heart balm acts — in fact, the term “heart balm” itself may be a bit misleading. These laws do not grant someone a right to sue for damages if, say, her fiancé leaves her at the altar. Rather, they limit the types of damages that a plaintiff can ask for. It was acceptable that someone would ask to be reimbursed for reception hall and tux rental, but damages for pain and suffering and, certainly, punitive damages were off the menu.
Does this mean, then, that as of Jan. 1 the state of Illinois no longer has laws that limit the types of damages a person can seek for a broken engagement? No necessarily: The new approach, the “modern” approach, is to encourage the parties not to litigate matters of the heart. As a friend said to us, “This is the ‘Grow up, people!’ Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.” Perhaps too blunt of an assessment, but, again, the General Assembly’s aim was to promote the amicable settlement of disputes.
With our post-Valentine’s Day scenario, however, there is still the question of the ring. We’ll give that the attention it deserves in our next post.
Illinois 2015 Legislative Service, Ninety-Ninth General Assembly, 2015, Public Act 99–90
Black’s Law Dictionary, “Heartbalm statute,” 10th ed. 2014