Balfour v. Balfour – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Balfour v. Balfour, 2 K.B. 571 (1919).
Mr. Balfour (D) and Mrs. Balfour (P) lived in Ceylon and visited England on a vacation. The plaintiff remained in England for medical treatment and the defendant agreed to send her a specific amount of money each month until she could return. The defendant later asked to remain separated and Mrs. Balfour sued for restitution of her conjugal rights and for alimony equal to the amount her husband had agreed to send.
Mrs. Balfour obtained a decree nisi and five months later was granted an order for alimony. The lower court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff and held that the defendant’s promise to send money was enforceable. The court held that Mrs. Balfour’s consent was sufficient consideration to render the contract enforceable and the defendant appealed.
- Must both parties intend that an agreement be legally binding in order to be an enforceable contract?
- Under what circumstances will a court decline to enforce an agreement between spouses?
Holding and Rule
- Yes. Both parties must intend that an agreement be legally binding in order to be an enforceable contract.
- The court will not enforce agreements between spouses that involve daily life.
Agreements between husband and wife over matters that affect their daily lives are not subject to contractual interpretation, even when consideration is present. Spouses normally intend that the terms of their agreements can be varied as situations develop. The court held that it was presumed that the parties made the agreement as husband and wife and did not intend that it could be sued upon. The court held that as a matter of public policy it could not resolve disputes between spouses.
Judgment for plaintiff Mrs. Balfour reversed.
Contracts related to the social aspect of marriage will not be enforced by the courts. Contracts between spouses related to business relationships can be enforced, however. Courts are willing to support negotiated divorce settlements and written statements of support.