The Case of the Jilted Bride

When a prospective groom misbehaves and then calls off the wedding, should he pay the expenses? You be the judge.

wedding rings breaking illustration
Noma Bar for Reader’s Digest

Lauren Serafin was heading into the busiest, most exciting month of her life. In just five weeks, on August 21, 2010, she would marry her fiancé, Robert Leighton, in Chicago, where they’d been living together for about a year. The couple were both young lawyers fresh out of Loyola Law School and had dated for two years before Leighton proposed on July 2, 2009.

Using money from her parents and her own funds, Serafin had made deposits on a band, salon services, a florist, a photographer, and a banquet room and catering at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. She had purchased dresses, accessories, and gifts for her brides­maids and flower girls, as well as the groom-to-be. She had spent money on her bridal shower at Quartino Ristorante on the North Side and on two plane tickets to Bora-Bora for the honeymoon. And she had bought a $5,000 wedding gown.

Leighton still had one thing left on his to-do list. On July 16, he hopped on a plane to Las Vegas with some friends for a weekend bachelor party. Back at home the following weekend, he attended a shower with Serafin, and they received lots of gifts and talked about their big day.

On July 28, while Leighton was in the shower, his phone received a text, and Serafin read the message. It was from a woman named Danielle, indicating that she and Leighton had been intimately involved during his trip to Vegas. Serafin asked Leighton about it, and he denied it. When she pressed the issue, he admitted that the two had kissed, and then he said he wanted to call off the wedding.

Still concerned that she didn’t have the whole story, Serafin tried to contact Danielle directly. She received a response from a person calling on behalf of Danielle, stating that Leighton not only had had sexual relations with Danielle but also had never let on that he was engaged. Finally, Leighton confessed that he had had sex with Danielle.

Serafin asked Leighton to pay for the wedding expenses she had accrued—a total of $62,814.71—but he refused. On October 6, Serafin sent a letter stating she would file a civil action. Then, on March 4, 2011, her attorney, Enrico J. Mirabelli, filed a complaint with the Circuit Court of Cook County.

“Basically, this is a contract case,” says Mirabelli. “It’s a breach of promise to marry.”

After canceling the wedding, should Robert Leighton be required to reimburse his former fiancée for wedding expenses? You be the judge.

THE VERDICT

There’s an antiquated statute in Illinois and a few other states called the Breach of Promise to Marry Act, which covers “breaches of promises or agreements to marry.” The only condition is this: Within three months of the breach, the plaintiff must mail a letter “in a sealed envelope with first-class postage prepaid” informing the defendant about the intent to file suit. Serafin did just that. But this case never made it to court; it was settled for an undisclosed amount days after the complaint was filed. “We brought this lawsuit to recoup damages,” says Mirabelli. “My client was very satisfied [with the settlement].” And Mirabelli can reveal the story’s moral: “What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.”

Was justice served? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest