A Mere Social Agreement Made Within A Family Cannot Be Enforced In Court Of Law: Court of Appeal

In the case of Balfour vs Balfour [1919] 2 KB 571 is a leading English contract law case, it was held that there is a rebuttable presumption against an intention to create a legally enforceable agreement when the agreement is domestic in nature. This case also gave birth to the ‘Theory of Legal Relations’ which is essential to forming a contract.


Mr Balfour was a civil engineer who worked for the Government as the Director of Irrigation in Sri Lanka and lived with his wife Mrs Balfour. In 1915, they both came back to England during Mr Balfour’s leave. But Mrs Balfour had developed rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctor advised her to stay in England, because the climate in Sri Lanka would be detrimental to her health. Mr Balfour’s boat was about to set sail, and he orally promised her £30 a month until she came back to Sri Lanka. They drifted apart, and Mr Balfour wrote saying it was better that they remain apart and subsequently he denied to pay the monthly expenses. In March 1918, Mrs Balfour sued him to keep up with the monthly £30 payments.


The judges present to hear this case were Justice Atkins, Justice Warrington, and Justice Duke. Lord Justice Atkins held that contract law is not for personal relationships and family. There was no intention to create a legal relationship, thus there can be no legally binding contract. Justice Warrington stated that “The husband expressed his intention to make this payment, and he promised to make it, and was bound in honour to continue it so long as he was in a position to do so. The wife on the other hand, so far as I can see, made no bargain at all. That is in my opinion sufficient to dispose of the case”. The Court of Appeal unanimously held that there was no enforceable agreement as the agreements made between a husband and wife to provide capitals are generally not contracts because generally, the parties do not intend that they should be attended by legal ends.

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Reviewed by Anagha K Bharadwaj


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One thought on “A Mere Social Agreement Made Within A Family Cannot Be Enforced In Court Of Law: Court of Appeal
  1. Very good proposals. Thank you very much.

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