Balfour v Balfour – Case Summary

Balfour v Balfour

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1919] 2 KB 571; [1918-19] All ER Rep 860; (1919) 88 LJKB 1054; (1919) 121 LT 346; (1919) 35 TLR 609.


The claimant and defendant were husband and wife. The defendant was usually resident in Ceylon, but while he was on leave in England his wife took ill. She therefore had to stay behind while he returned to Ceylon. The defendant promised to pay the claimant a sum of money each month in return for her agreeing to support herself in England without calling on him for more money. The couple subsequently divorced, and the claimant sued the defendant to enforce the maintenance agreement. She claimed that the agreement was a binding contract.

  1. Do parties with a domestic or social relationship intend to be legally bound by arrangements of this nature?

The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. The parties’ domestic relationship strongly indicated that they did not intend their personal arrangements to be legally binding. As such, there was no contract.

This Case is Authority For…

Where the parties have a domestic or social relationship, the courts will presume that they do not intend to be legally bound by their arrangements unless there is evidence to the contrary.


Duke LJ argued that if mutual promises made in a domestic context were binding, is would be ‘fruitful source of dissension and quarrelling’ to no one’s benefit. Atkin LJ agreed that it would lead to excessive litigation and social strife.

Duke LJ also thought that the wife in this case had not provided consideration for the husband’s promise, because she had not given up any legal right (merely a social entitlement).