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Etiquette for Breaking Off an Engagement

What to do when the wedding doesn’t happen

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Not all engagements end in marriage. They sometimes wind up with a split, leaving both parties not knowing what to do next. An engagement period is a good time to learn how your prospective partner reacts in stressful situations, and the breakup will multiply that exponentially.

There are no easy answers or a one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are some general rules and guidelines that can make this as painless as possible. Even if you never see the other person again, it’s always a good idea to keep things fair and honest. Following your everyday good manners during this difficult time will keep you from having regrets later.

Announcement

Just as you would announce an engagement, you would want to let everyone know that the wedding has been called off. However, a celebratory party is generally not in order at a time like this. There are other ways to announce your breakup.

Discuss your split with the clergy member or wedding officiant. This person needs to know before anyone else so he or she can take the wedding off what is probably a very busy schedule. Some clergy members may request at least one counseling session.

It’s never a good idea to play the blame game, unless one of you did something publically that can’t be ignored. If possible, tell people that it was a mutual decision to agree to part ways. If people ask for more information, in the politest way you can, say it isn’t open for discussion and that you have others to contact. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into a lengthy discussion.

However, if one of you had a public affair or did something inexcusable, there is no way around people knowing the facts. It’s still best if you don’t perpetuate the discussion, or you may have a more difficult time getting your life back.

What you and your former partner can do to let friends and family know:

  • Call groups of friends together and tell everyone at the same time.
  • Divide the list and each of you call your half.
  • If the wedding guest number is too large to handle it between the two of you, enlist the help of other wedding party members and family.

Contacting Vendors

You’ll want to contact all the vendors, including your caterer, photographer, videographer, florist, cake decorator, and anyone else you have hired to provide a service during your wedding or reception. You probably won’t get your deposit back, and you may still be liable for part of the payment to secure the services.

Engagement Ring

Most of the time, engagement rings are considered gifts contingent on a wedding taking place. The bride should return it upon breaking off the engagement. However, if the ring was offered as a birthday or holiday gift, it is hers to keep. If there is a disagreement over the ring and who gets it, you should seek legal counsel.

State laws vary over the conditions of who gets the ring. In some states, if the groom breaks the engagement, the bride may keep the ring, but if the bride breaks things off, she must give back the ring. Other states consider the ring an outright gift.

Wedding Gifts

As soon as possible after the breakup, all wedding gifts should be returned in the original packaging. This is one reason it is never a good idea to use a wedding gift before the ceremony. When you send the gift back, enclose a thank you note and let the person know that the wedding will not take place. It is not necessary to give a reason or detailed explanation. This includes all monetary gifts.

Personal Belongings

Many couples combine their belongings before the wedding. If the two of you are splitting on good terms, and you are certain that no one will argue over what belongs to whom, get together to divide your things. However, if there is any doubt about how the other person will react, ask a family member or friend to be present or to return the other person’s belongings.

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