Case Analysis – Balfour Vs. Balfour

                                               Balfour v Balfour

                                    Citation: Balfour v Balfour [1919]2 KB 571

Facts:

Mr and Mrs Balfour were couple they went to England to spend their vacation in the year of 1915 they lived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Mr Balfour was a Civil Engineer, and worked for the Government as a Director of Irrigation in Ceylon(Sri Lanka). Sadly in the course of vacation Mrs Balfour’s health became vulnerable as she had developed rheumatoid arthritis, she was in need of medical treatment. So they made an agreement between them that Mrs Balfour would stay back in England for her treatment whereas his husband had to return to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for his employment purpose. Mr Balfour agreed to send her an amount of 30 pounds a month for probable expenses of maintenance until everything fall in place.

Everything was going fine in their relation; however the relationship later soured. After Mr Balfour returned to Ceylon he did send the amount for some time, he wrote his wife a letter that it would be better that if their separation become permanent and slowly their bonding deteriorated and afterwards differences arose between them which resulted in their separation and they were divorced .Now 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 pound payments as the allowance fell into arrears.

Issue raised:

  • Did Mr Balfour ever intend to enter into any sort of agreement with his wife Mrs Balfour?
  • Was Mr Balfour offer intended to be legally binding?
  • Is the agreement between Mr and Mrs Balfour valid in nature at all?
  • Does the contract between husband and wife enforceable in the court of law?
  • Does the husband’s promise to pay 30 pound per month constitute a valid contract which can be sued upon?
  • Under what circumstances will a court decline to enforce an agreement between spouses?

Contention at the part of the Appellant (Mr Balfour)

The Agreement made between Mr Balfour and Mrs Balfour was purely domestic in nature. The promise made by Mr Balfour of providing monthly expenses to his wife was a domestic agreement and not a legal one. So the husband didn’t have any intention of creating a legal agreement, it does not hold any legal enforcement. Moreover Mr Balfour never had any sort of intention to form a legal agreement.

 Contention at the part of the Respondent (Mrs Balfour)

It was held that the characteristics of the agreement was purely domestic in nature, Lord Justice Atkin held that when a husband and wife enter into an agreement they never intend to create 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 contract altogether.

Rationale

The court first recognized that certain forms of agreements do not reach the status of a contract .In such an agreements one party is given a certain sum of money on a daily, weekly or on monthly basis which can be termed as “allowance”. However, these agreements are not contracts because the parties did not intend that they should be attended by legal consequences. 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 Mrs Balfour gave consideration. The doctrine of intention to create a legal relation was invoked by Atkin LJ generally. One reason the court was hesitant to treat these agreements as contracts, is that there would not be enough courts to handle the volume of cases.

The court made an interesting argument in not enforcing these types of promises. The court argues that if these promises are treated as contracts the flood gates will open.

In one of the other case of Jhones v Padavatton, Salmon LJ had said that this case 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.

Interference

In my opinion after studying and going through the case of Balfour v Balfour (1919) we understand that a mere social agreement made within a family cannot be enforced in the court of law, these agreements do not hold any legally binding authority. The relationship between a husband and wife is one where two parties agree to take a walk together it’s a bond of hospitality. Nobody would suggest in ordinary circumstances that those agreements result in what we know as a contract. Warrington’s reasoning takes a legal approach to a rather social dilemma. The case gives us a glimpse of traditional patriarchal society where the role of women in society is restricted to the household due to which she was economically independent on her husband. Their dependence made them vulnerable to promises like the one which he saw in this present case. It can be implied that the husband had to provide for his wife in any circumstances. By distinguishing between a contract and a promise, the doctrine of Intention to create Legal Relation carved out from Lord Atkin’s judgement in Balfour v Balfour. He reasoned that such agreements like the one which made in this case are common and even if Mrs Balfour’s had provided consideration for Mr Balfour’s promise, then also her claim would have failed as the parties had not intended to create legal relation. He presumed that due to the nature of the relation between the parties, there was no intention to create legal relation. He argues that agreement such as this fall outside the contract law. Lord Atkin’s aim to safeguard those promises which all of us make regularly in a domestic arrangement. Atkin protected the private domain of life from the interference of the court.

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