Being married carries specific legal consequences, e.g. spouses typically are treated differently under tax law, divorce property law, inheritance law, have rights regarding medical visitation and medical decisions. Sometimes insurance carriers treat them differently, though i'm unsure if that's legally mandated or just standard practice.

Absent a specific signed engagement contract which stipulates specific legal ramifications, does being engaged (to be married) carry any legal significance?

Jurisdiction is either USA, or France (I'm interested in both).

Significance may be to either party of the engagement, or to third parties (e.g. in how they have to treat engaged partner, or the couple, differently).

Just to be clear, consequences must stem from the fact of engagement, NOT from things like co-habitation, being declared "domestic partners" etc...

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    This question was prompted by the discussion on skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/36404/6523, wasn't it?
    – jwodder
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 0:44
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    @jwodder - yes, that's where I got the idea.
    – user0306
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 0:46
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    It entitles you to sue for breach of promise.
    – user207421
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 11:27
  • Related question, does "spousal privilege" (the idea that you can't be compelled to testify against your spouse) extend to engaged/unmarried domestic partners?
    – BradC
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


There are only a few areas of law of which I am aware that U.S. law treats people who are engaged to be married differently (although perhaps with more thought I could expand the list).

  1. Fiance(e)s come under a special immigration status when applying for a visa.

  2. There is a body of law related to whether an engagement ring is an absolute gift or is conditional upon being married (this is not uniform from state to state and I don't recall what the majority rule in those cases is under the common law). In South Carolina, ownership disputes over engagement rings are litigated as breach of promise to marry actions.

  3. Pre-marital agreements governing a future marriage can be made by people who are engaged (although a post-nuptial agreement is also equal in effect in most cases).

  4. People who are engaged, like spouses, are generally considered to be in a "confidential relationship" with each other which imposes higher duties with respect to fairness in their dealings with each other than strangers, but generally less high duties than fiduciaries.

  5. While not strictly arising from the status of being engaged, adult cohabitants are generally agents for service of process of each other at their shared home, and are often considered to have a legally significant relationship for purposes of domestic violence statutes (usually related to either domestic violence crimes or temporary restraining orders).

I am not familiar enough with the law of France to fully answer the balance of the question, which someone more familiar with that law can expand upon.

But, there is similarly a special immigration status in French law for a fiance(e).

And, French law, in a flourish so romantic it could scarcely be any other country's law, also allows people who are engaged a right to marry after one of them has died in certain circumstances:

"The legislation that allows posthumous marriages stems back to when a dam burst in 1959 and killed 420 people in southern France." It was most recently invoked in 2014 when a grieving French woman was granted permission by the French President to marry her former fiancé, who tragically died in 2012, just a month before they were due to wed. To be eligible the bride to be had "to convince the President of France that her’s was a special case and that her love for Michael went beyond the grave. It took four letters to the president and 20 months of waiting, desperately hoping for a positive response." The President's discretion in this matter is somewhat similar to the pardon power in U.S. law.

This French law was also invoked in 2009. The law in question is set forth at Articles 171 of the French Civil Code. In English translation this states:

Article 171 The President of the Republic may, for serious reasons, authorize the celebration of the marriage if one of the future spouses is dead providing a sufficient gathering of facts establishes unequivocally his consent. In this case, the effects of the marriage date back to the day preceding that of the death of the spouse. However, this marriage does not carry with it any right of intestate succession to the benefit of the surviving spouse and no matrimonial regime is considered to have existed between the spouses.

I am aware of one documented case where a court entered a post-humous marriage in the United States between people who were engaged, but I am not familiar with any legal authority actually authorizing that action.

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    Great answer! One nitpick: Are prenups actually affected by being engaged? Can people who aren't engaged enter into prenup and if so, would it be legally any different? If not, #3 seems like it doesn't matter to the answer.
    – user0306
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 23:33
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    Also, I would de-emphacise #5, to be honest. You yourself noted that it's contingent on co-habitation, which is not really related to engegement (you can be engaged but not cohabiting, or vice versa). May be split off #3 and #5 into separate section at the end that is "not really about engagement but relevant to the topic"?
    – user0306
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 23:43
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    If you are entering into a prenup, you are by definition engaged to be married.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 1:51
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    i'm not sure that's a legal rule (as opposed to rule of thumb)?
    – user0306
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 2:26
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    @DVK Consider Colorado Revised Statutes § 14-2-302(5) which is based on a uniform state law widely adopted: '"Premarital agreement' means an agreement between individuals who intend to marry which affirms, modifies, or waives a marital right or obligation during the marriage or at legal separation, marital dissolution, death of one of the spouses, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event. The term includes an amendment, signed before the individuals marry, of a premarital agreement." Thus, people who aren't married and aren't engaged can't enter into a marital agreement.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 4:07

does being engaged (to be married) carry any legal significance

Depending on your definition of "engaged", yes: you cannot marry without announcing your engagement.

Banns of marriage -- France

French civil law requires the publication of banns of marriage in the towns where intended spouses are living. It should be displayed in the town hall ten days before the marriage.

Or, from an official web page, Mariage en France:

Le mariage ne peut pas être célébré avant le 10è jour depuis, et non compris, celui de la publication des bans.

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    So, what happens if they aren't posted?
    – user0306
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 16:10
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    If you didn't get them posted then you haven't done enough paper-work to get married. You can't just show up at the town hall and say "marry us": the registrant would presumably tell you, "sorry, you have to publish your intention first, and then come back in 10 days".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 16:37
  • Something similar in the UK: you need to give notice, after which they'll give you a license (i.e. give you permission) to marry.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 16:41
  • I'm not claiming that this person has taken the legal step described in this answer, i.e. that she has had bans published. In fact that hat sounds to me improbable, since that involves an obligatory interview with an official who would ask the pair whether they are marriageable.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 16:51
  • In Hungary, the wait time is 30 days but under some circumstances (pregnancy is a common one) it's possible to get a weaver but the processing time for that is 10-14 days usually...
    – chx
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 19:21

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