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Here is a common trope in movies and series: Romeo and Juliette love each other, to the great displeasure of Mr. Capulet, Juliet's father. The man decides to privately meet Romeo and to offer him big money if he accept to quit his daughter. Depending on the story, then two scenarios are possible:

  1. Romeo is not the good man that Juliet believes she loves, and will not refuse easy money. He disappears from Juliet's life whose heart is broken forever (or until the next love interest).
  2. On the contrary, Romeo abhorres the idea of living far from Juliet and refuses the money. It starts from that moment a strong enmity between the two men.

There is a third scenario that never occurs in fiction: Romeo accepts the money, but tells everything to his significant other. He uses the money to offer a happy life to Juliet. This is how I would probably act in such a situation: sure, lying to Mr. Capulet is not very honorable, but why should I act with honor with someone able of this kind of vileness?

My question: could Romeo be legally binded to honor his word and quit Juliet? Would it change something if Mr. Capulet had the idea of making Romeo to sign a written document?

For the sake of the question, we can assume that it happens in the US (since it is a regular trope in US TV shows). Answers that compare situations in other countries is interesting too.

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Fun one!

First on the question of whether it matters if the agreement is written, I don't imagine it would make a difference in most of the US. We only require written contracts for agreements that meet certain requirements, those include contracts over a certain dollar amount, contracts involving the sale of land and contracts that cannot be completed within the year. Depending on the facts of your hypo, the writing requirement may be in play, but either way, it doesn't really make the situation more or less interesting; it's not a unique issue to this sort of contract.

Second, the baseline assumption is that people can form legally binding contracts. The question is, whether something forbids the sort of contract you have in mind. I can think of a few things:

  1. It would be reasonably challenging to define what conduct is forbidden by the agreement. But that is merely a challenge not a road block. You could easily come up with a laundry list of forbidden acts to accomplish your result.

  2. Two people cannot contract to force the behavior of a third person, barring special circumstance. But again this isn't important since it's just a matter of drafting. In other words the contract probably would not say Juliet cannot go to the movies with Romeo, rather it would say Romeo cannot go the movies with Juliet.

Even drafted in the less ideal way, he operative concept is whether the father could enforce a breach. So, the contract COULD be worded to say "If Juliet attends a movie while Romeo is present, Romeo must pay the father $xx dollars."

  1. Most importantly a party cannot form a contract that violates public policy. This is sometimes referred to "legality of objects", as in the object/goal of the contract must be legal. Contracts for prostitution, or the sale of a child (i.e. certain adoption contracts), or illegal products, would likely trip over this category. Here however, I can't readily think of a public policy basis to challenge the contract.

Surely (some) states have stated a public policy favoring marriage, but it would likely be a challenge to contend the contract to not date (or not marry) was void because of such a policy.

I can't think of any reason that the father couldn't enforce this sort of agreement.

Finally, even if the contract was not enforceable, it's highly likely that Romeo could not simply take the money and breach. There are basis to demand return of the money even if no enforceable agreement exists.

I am not your lawyer. Seek counsel from a lawyer in your area before taking any action. This answer is provided without research and for purely academic reasons. I have no special knowledge of this area of law.

  • Romeo is accepting consideration to not compete for Juliet's heart. Some jurisdictions find noncompetes in employment to be contrary to public policy; so maybe Juliet can break this by hiring Romeo to look pretty in a California house... – user662852 Sep 9 '16 at 17:26
  • That's fun. But to my knowledge every jurisdiction that frown upon noncompetes do so only in an economic co text. But I wouldn't fault you for making the argument! – COMisHARD Sep 9 '16 at 17:36
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    I believe that I have read that contracts to marry, or refrain from marrying, a specific person are against public policy. But I do not currently have a source to cite, and this may be true only in specific jurisdiction, or may be an error on my part. – David Siegel Aug 16 at 14:20

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