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Balfour v. Balfour

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

Balfour v. Balfour

Citation. 2 K.B. 571 (Court of Appeal 1919)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A husband promised to pay his wife a £30 per month allowance.  The wife sued her husband to enforce the promise.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Agreements between husband and wife to provide monies are generally not contracts because generally the “parties d[o] not intend that they should be attended by legal consequences.”


The Plaintiff and the Defendant were a married couple.  The Defendant husband and the Plaintiff wife lived in Ceylon where the Defendant worked.  In 1915, while the Defendant was on leave, the couple returned to England.  When it was time to return to Ceylon, the Plaintiff was advised not to return because of her health.  Prior to the Defendant returning, he promised to send the Plaintiff £30 per month as support.  The parties’ relationship deteriorated and the parties began living apart.  The Plaintiff brings suit to enforce the Defendant’s promise to pay her £30 per month.  The lower court found the parties’ agreement constituted a contract.


Does the husbands promise to pay £30 per month constitute a valid contract which can be sued upon?


The court first recognized that certain forms of agreements do not reach the status of a contract.  An agreement between a husband and wife is often times such a form of agreement.  In such agreements, one party is give a certain sum of money on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc.. basis.  This agreement is sometimes termed an allowance.  However, these agreements are not contracts because the “parties did not intend that they should be attended by legal consequences.”  One reason the court is hesitant to treat these agreements as contracts, is that there would not be enough courts to handle the volume of cases.  Thus, here, the husband’s promise did not rise to the level of a contract.


The court makes 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.

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