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 BALFOUR V. BALFOUR [1919] 2KB 571



Mr. Balfour 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. His wife became ill and needed medical attention. She was advised by her doctor to stay in England. They made an agreement that Mrs. Balfour was to remain behind in England when the husband returned to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and that Mr. Balfour would pay her £30 a month until he returned. This understanding was made while their relationship was fine; however, the relationship later soured.

After his return to Ceylon, he wrote her to say that it would be better that their separation become permanent. The parties subsequently divorced and an issue arose as to whether agreement was enforceable and soon after that Mrs. Balfour sued him for restitution of her conjugal rights and for alimony equal to the amount her husband had agreed to send. In March 1918, Mrs. Balfour sued him to keep up with the monthly £30 payments.     


  1. Did Mr. Balfour ever intended to enter into any sort of agreement with his wife, Mrs. Balfour?

  2. Is the agreement between Mr. And Mrs. Balfour valid in nature at all?

  3. Does the contract between husband and wife enforceable in court of law?


The rule applicable in this case relates to the division of contract from promise and has some legal contractual power to be enforceable as a contract in a court of law between spouses. The unusual characteristic of the suit was that Mrs. Balfour was appealing in contract arguing that Mr. Balfour should keep sending her money for her maintenance not because he married her, but that he agreed that he would do so. A husband and wife were involved in this situation, but this relationship is just a domestic or social partnership or arrangement. We need some basic elements in that arrangement to implement that arrangement as a contract. These elements are consideration and legal intention to form a contract. Agreements such as the one in discussion are entirely beyond the purview of contracts.


the agreement was not legally binding, the agreements made in personal family relationships are not counted in law of contract the agreements made between spouses to provide capitals or monetary benefits does not hold any legally binding authority. Generally, spouses or parties to marriage do make arrangements for personal and household expenses, but there is never a legal instinct in those things.

The court of Appeal had unanimously ruled that there was no such enforceable agreement between Mr. Balfour and Mrs. Balfour. Subsequently, Mr Balfour was allowed. Basically, the law revolves around the concept that there must be an intention on the part of both the parties to create a legal relationship in order to validate a contract. This was the ratio decidendi of the case. Whether the parties intended to create a legal relationship or not is determined by examining the circumstances that existed, under which the execution of the contract was done.

It was held that the characteristics of the agreement was purely and completely domestic in nature, Lord Justice Atkin held that when a husband and a wife enter into an agreement, they never intend to create a legal relationship. Both the parties must have an intention to create a legal relationship while entering into an agreement, then only it becomes enforceable in court of law.

Moreover, a court will never take into account the domestic agreements between spouses made in daily course of life. The agreement was outside the realm of contracts altogether.


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