Facts of the case
In this case the plaintiff, Mrs. Balfour, sued the defendant, Mr.Balfour,
her husband for money due under an alleged verbal agreement, whereby he
undertook to allow her 30, a month in consideration of her agreeing to support
herself without calling upon him for any further maintenance. The parties were
married in 1900. The husband was resident in Ceylon (present day Srilanka),
where he held a Government appointment.
The plaintiff accompanied him to Ceylon,
but in 1915 they returned to England defendant being on leave. In 1916 he went
back to Ceylon, leaving her in England, where she had to remain temporarily
under medical advice. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant before returning
to Ceylon entered into the above agreement. The parties' relationship
deteriorated and the parties began living apart, the plaintiff subsequently
obtained a decree nisi for restitution of conjugal rights, and an order for
An additional judge of King's Bench Division presided by Justice Sargant,
held that the defendant was under a responsibility to support his wife and there
exists a strong contract between the defendant and the plaintiff. The consent of
the plaintiff to this type monthly transfer was a valid to constitute a required
contract between the couple.
Arguments by Appellant:
- Was the agreement between Mr. and Mrs. Balfour a valid contract?
- Was the defendant's offer intended to be legally binding? Means was
there any intension of the parties to enter into a legal agreement?
- In what conditions a court refuse to enforce agreements between spouses?
The agreement made by the parties was a domestic
agreement and not a legal agreement. Mr. Balfour didn't have any intention to
legally bind each other or creating a legal agreement
Arguments by Respondent- Mrs. Balfour is regarded to be given the money as the
husband entered into the contract by offering her 30 and she agreed and stayed
back in England.
In this case comes a important rule that incorporates the role of
intention into the law of contract. The rules were applied to answer- does
agreements between spouses are legally binding to have enforceability in courts
as contracts? The rule of intention to create legal relationship in invoked in
Despite having marital relationship Mrs. Balfour was suing her
husband claiming that Mr.Balfour perform the promise not because she is her
wife but as a rational person who made a promise. To enforce an agreement as
contract there has to be consideration and a legal intension to make it contract
but in this case both the parties were husband and wife and as per the nature,
situation and the arguments of Appellant the court of appeal reversed the
Decision of Sargant J. saying the alleged agreement did not constitute a legal
contract, but was only an ordinary domestic arrangement which could not be sued
upon. Mutual promises made in the ordinary domestic relationship of husband and
wife do not of necessity give cause for action on a contract. The court also
looked upon the rule of agreements result into contract between spouses.
In this case lower court held the agreement enforceable by law as stating
that Mrs. Balfour's consent was a valid consideration to make contract
enforceable. The case was taken into appellate court held agreement
unenforceable. The rule of consideration was reviewed. Warrington LJ and Duke LJ
doubted the consent of Mrs.Balfour as valid consideration, whereas Atkin LJ
comes with a doctrine of intention to create legal relations that found to be
decisive step to reach the verdict.
He applied the doctrine only written in the
textbooks. It was the first time this rule of law was invoked and became
essential in laws of England to constitute agreements into contracts. It is said
that this doctrine is based on public policy, as of its nature, the law of
contract should not interfere in domestic situations otherwise courts would be
flooded by trivial domestic disputes.
Then doctrine of intension to create legal
relationship by Atkin LJ achieved great prominence, referred as an animus
contrahendi. Later in cases Salmon LJ clear that this doctrine a factual, not
legal, presumption. In contractual intention what matters is the thinking of a
common person in the given situation.
A contract is not enforceable unless the parties intended the contract to
create legal relations. The parties intended to create legal relations is
determined accurately by examining the circumstances existing at the time of the
execution of the contract. This same will be applied to the agreements between
the spouses and it will have same effect as if the agreement made between any
other rational people.
Basics Of Contract Law
Essentials of a Valid Contract
Judicial Precedent Is Source of Law
Intention to Create Legal Relationship
Balfour Vs. Balfour- Case Analysis  2KB 571
The Doctrine Of Frustration Challenges The Validity Of The Fundamental
Principle Of Pacta Sunt Servanda