[Case-brief] Balfour v Balfour

The present decision is the leading English case law which deals with the difference between legally enforceable agreements and agreements which are domestic in nature.

Balfour v Balfour

[1919] 2 KB 571

Before the Court of Appeal (Civil Divison)

Bench: Warrington LJ, Duke LJ, Atkin LJ.

Decided on:25 June 1919

Relevant Acts: Married Women’s Property Act 1882

Brief Facts: Mr. Balfour- a civil engineer by profession- is the appellant in the present case. He used to live with his wife in Ceylon, Sri Lanka. During his vacations in the year 1915, they came to England. But on his return, Mrs. Balfour had developed a disease rheumatic arthritis. She was advised by her doctor to stay in England as a jungle climate would be detrimental to her health. As Mr. Balfour’s boat was about to set sail, he promised her £30 a month until she came back to Ceylon.
Mr. Balfour continued to send the money to her wife in England for some time but subsequently, he stopped. In March 1918, Mrs. Balfour sued him to keep up with the monthly £30 payments.

Procedural History: An additional judge of King’s Bench Division presided by Justice Sargant, held that the husband was under an obligation to support his wife and there exists a valid contract between the husband and the wife is valid. The consent of the wife to this arrangement of monthly transfer was a valid consideration to constitute a binding contract between the parties.

The present appeal is filed by the husband who is aggrieved by this decision of the Division bench.

Issue: Was there a valid contract between Mr. and Mrs. Balfour?

Contention of the appellant: In the present case the promise for paying the due amount of money was merely a domestic agreement and was not a legal contract as it was a husband-wife relation and Mr. Balfour did not have any intention to create a legal relation.

Contention of the respondent: The wife is eligible for the given amount of money as the husband entered into a legal contract by contract by offering his wife £30 and the wife agreed and stayed back in England.

Held: There was no intention on behalf of Mr. Balfour to create a legal relation.  

Ratio: There exist certain agreements which do not result in contracts within the meaning of the term ‘contract’ in our law. For example- two parties agree to take a walk together, there is an offer and acceptance of hospitality. It is quite common, and it is the natural and inevitable result of the relationship of husband and wife, that the two spouses should make arrangements between themselves for allowances, by which the husband agrees that he will pay to his wife a certain sum of money, per week, or per month, or per year, to cover either her own expenses or the necessary expenses of the household and of the children of the marriage, and in which the wife promises either expressly or impliedly to apply the allowance for the purpose for which it is given. To my mind, those agreements, or many of them, do not result in contracts at all.

(This case brief was prepared and submitted to LawBriefs.in by Anmol Kanodia, Student at Gujarat National Law University.)

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