Case Analysis: Balfour v Balfour



Court: Court of Appeal of England and Wales

Full Case Name: Balfour v Balfour,

Date Decided: 25 June 1919

Citation: (1919) 2 KB 571

Judges: Atkin, Warrington, and Duke LJJ

Appellant: Mr. Balfour

Respondent: Mrs. Balfour

Facts: Mr. and Mrs. Balfour was a married couple. Mr. Balfour was a civil engineer who worked in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). In 1915 Mr. Balfour and his wife went to England for a vacation, his wife became ill and her doctor advised that she could not return to Ceylon due to her arthritis. They made an agreement that Mrs. Balfour would stay in England while Mr. Balfour returned to Ceylon. During the time, Mr. Balfour told Mrs. Balfour that he would pay her ₤30 a month until he returned. This understanding was made while their relationship was fine; however the relationship later soured and they decided to divorce. Mrs. Balfour sued, stating that Mr. Balfour had legal obligation (under contract) to continue paying her the ₤30 a month. Although Mrs. Balfour Succeeded at first instance. An additional judge of kings bench Division held that the husband was under responsibility to support his wife and there exists a strong contract between the husband and the wife. The consent of the wife to this order of monthly transfer was valid though to constitute a required contract between the couple. Thus, found the contract bounding, which Mr. Balfour appealed.


  1. Was Mr. Balfour offer intended to be legally binding?
  2. Was their a valid contract between the two?

Argument by Appellant: In Balfour v Balfour the promise made by Mr. Balfour of providing monthly expenses to his wife was a domestic agreement and not a legal agreement. Or the husband didn’t have any intention of creating a legal agreement.

Argument by Respondent: In Balfour v Balfour the wife is deemed to given amount of money as the husband entered into a domestic contract by offering his wife ₤30 and the wife agreed and stayed back in England.

Judgment in Balfour v Balfour 1919: The court said that it is essential that both the parties should intend that an agreement be legally bounding so to become an enforceable. Also the court will not interfere between the spouses in their day to day affairs. The agreement was purely social and domestic nature and therefore it was presumed that the parties did not intend to be legally bound. Atkin held that the law of contract was not made for personal family relationships. As there was no intend to be legally bound when the agreement was agreed upon, there can be no legally binding contract.

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Atkin holds that if the courts were to allow all wives to come to court when the agreement had been broken with their husbands then the courts would be overrun with frivolous cases. Warrington, concurring in the result, agreed substantially with Atkin, but added that there was no bargain of any kind made by Mrs. Balfour sufficient for a binding contract.

Conclusion: At common law, a contract is not enforceable unless the parties intended the contract to create legal relations. Whether or not the parties intended to create legal relations is determined accurately by examining the circumstances existing at the time of the execution of the contract. Whether promise made or not, it is between the parties to uphold it to their fullest potential. The parties cannot enforce and the judge who had made the decision concluded that the court cannot come into martial affairs and it is up to their full knowledge for solving their own problem. So in the Balfour v Balfour gave a new perspective to the contract validation.



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