Gould v Gould – Case Summary

Gould v Gould

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1970] 1 QB 275; [1969] 3 WLR 490; [1969] 3 All ER 728; (1969) 113 SJ 508; [1969] CLY 517.


The defendant was the claimant’s husband. He left her in 1966, telling her that so long as his business was ‘ok’ he would pay her £15 a week. He did so until 1968, when he fell into arrears. The claimant sued for the overdue maintenance money. She argued that the husband was bound by contract to continue paying as long as he still had his business. The husband responded that the agreement was not enforceable for two reasons. The first was that he did not intend to be legally bound by it. The second was that any contract would be void for uncertainty.

  1. Did the defendant intend to be legally bound by his promise?
  2. Was the agreement void for uncertainty?

The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. The words used by the husband were uncertain because they provided no metric by which to measure whether the business was ‘ok’. This, and the domestic nature of the arrangement, also indicated that he did not objectively intend to be legally bound.

This Case is Authority For…

Intention to be legally bound is ascertained objectively. Where the parties have a family or domestic relationship, there is a rebuttable presumption that they do not intend to be legally bound by their arrangements.


Lord Denning dissented:

  • Denning thought that the agreement was sufficiently certain. The husbands words meant that if he fell into difficulties he could end the arrangement with reasonable notice.
  • He also thought there was evidence that the parties intended the arrangement to be legally binding. The presumption against intention in domestic cases should not, in his opinion, apply to separated couples. This element of Lord Denning’s judgment was later enshrined into law in Merritt v Merritt [1970] 1 WLR 1211.
  • Finally, he considered there to be adequate consideration due to the fact that both were surrendering their ‘matrimonial right to live together’. The claimant also lost certain legal rights available to wives at the time.