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Balfour Vs. Balfour- Case Analysis [1919] 2KB 571

Facts Of The Case
  • Mr. Balfour and Mrs. Balfour were husband and wife from Ceylon ( Sri Lanka) and once they went for a vacation to England in the year 1915
  • But unfortunately during the course of vacation, Mrs. Balfour fell ill; she was in urgent need of medical attention.
  • Then they decided and made an agreement that Mr. Balfour would return to Ceylon and his wife, that is Mrs. Balfour shall stay back until she recovers from her illness.
  • They had also decided that during that period of time Mr. Balfour shall pay Mrs. Balfour 30 pounds as maintenance every month until everything falls into place, unless she recovers and returns back to Ceylon.
  • Now this understanding and interpretation was made when their relationship was fine and there was not any sort of sourness in between them.
  • But slowly and gradually their relationship deteriorated which resulted in non- payment of the amount of maintenance by Mr. Balfour to Mrs. Balfour
  • But Mrs. Balfour decided to sought to enforce the agreement and moved to the court.
  • Mr. Balfour wrote the letter to his wife suggesting to make their separation permanent.
  • And at later point of time they separated legally, that means they were divorced.
  • Mrs. Balfour had brought the action against Mr. Balfour for non-payment of the amount he was supposed to pay in court of law in the year 1918.

Issues Raised In The Case
  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?

Procedural History Of The Case

Initially when Mrs. Balfour had moved to the court in order to seek her maintenance, an additional judge of King�s Bench division presided by Justice Sargant, held that the husband is indeed liable and is under obligation to provide maintenance and support to his wife. It had held that there existed a valid contract between Mr. And Mrs. Balfour. Basically, the lower court ruled in favour of the plaintiff (Mrs. Balfour) and against the defendant (Mr. Balfour).The defendant�s promise to pay the maintenance was enforceable.

The consideration to the agreement of monthly transfer of the amount of money was lawful and held binding obligations. So, in the month of July,1919 she received the decree nisi and subsequently in the month of December, the order for alimony. The lower court had observed and had held the contract binding but Mr. Balfour appealed in higher court.

Contention At The Part Of The Appealant (Mr. Balfour)

The Agreement made between Mr. Balfour and Mrs. Balfour was purely domestic in nature, it does not hold any legal enforcement. Moreover Mr. Balfour never had any sort of intention to to form an agreement which is legal in nature.

Contention At The Part Of The Respondent (Mrs. Balfour)

The husband must be obliged to pay her the maintenance because, because the husband got into the domestic agreement by entering into the contract that he would pay her the amount of 30 pounds as support for which she had agreed to stay back in England.

What Was Held In Balfour Vs. Balfour (1919)

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.

As mentioned above, 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.

Short Analysis Of The Case
Initially, at the first instance of the case, Justice Sargant had held that, the claims made by Mrs. Balfour are valid and Mr. Balfour should be entitled to pay her the maintenance which he promised to pay. Finally, Mr. Balfour appealed in the court of appeal. In the court of Appeal, it was held by the bench of judges, Warrington LJ, Duke LJ, Atkin LJ that the agreement is not enforceable in court of law. Atkin LJ observed it with regard to owing to its domestic nature. Whereas Warrington LJ and Duke LJ did so because they doubted that Mrs. Balfour gave consideration. The doctrine of intention to create a legal relation was invoked by Atkin LJ basically.

It was said that the doctrine was with regard to public policy and domestic agreement has got nothing to do with it. The court can not indulge into such trifle issues relating to personal and family agreements.

Though there may be certain circumstances, where husband and wife may enter into an agreement which is legally binding in nature, but here in this case there was no such circumstance. The doctrine attracted attention and gained prominence. This intention is sometimes also referred as animus contrahendi.

In one of the later case of Jones vs. Padavatton, Salmon LJ had said that the this is factual in nature. It does not possess any legal presumption.
Intention to create a legal relationship is one of the essential elements required to enter into a contract.

By studying and going through the case of Balfour vs. Balfour (1919), we understand that a mere social agreement made within a family can not be enforced in court of law, these agreements do not hold any legally binding authority. Second thing is there must be an intention to create a legal relation at the part of the parties. Owing to all this, Mr. Balfour could not be sued by Mrs. Balfour in court of law. This case has often been seen in conjunction with Merritt vs. Merritt 1970] 2 All ER 760; [1970] 1 WLR 121. In this case, though the couple was married but they already had an estranged relationship, when the agreement was made, so in this scenario, any sort of agreement between them was to be considered that of legal in nature.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Safeeya Sabeer

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