Williams v Williams (Enforcability of Agreement) – Case Summary

Williams v Williams (Enforcability of Agreement)

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1957] 1 WLR 148; [1957] 1 All ER 305; (1957) 121 JP 93; (1957) 101 SJ 108; [1957] CLY 1081.


The parties were a formerly married couple. After seven years of marriage, the wife deserted her husband. The parties later agreed that the husband would pay the wife a sum of money each week as long as the wife led ‘a chaste life’ and did not make any claims for credit under her husband’s name. Making claims for credit in a husband’s name was something commonly done at the time, as husbands had a legal obligation to support their wives. The couple then divorced.

The husband failed to make the payments, so the wife sued for breach of contract. The husband argued that there was no contract between them, because the wife had not provided consideration. He argued that she had lost her right to be maintained by him when she deserted him, so she had offered nothing real in return for his promise to pay.

  1. Had the wife given consideration for the husband’s promise?

The Court held in favour of the wife. The wife had merely suspended her right to maintenance by deserting. She could revive it at any time before the divorce by making a genuine offer to return. As such, a promise not to use his name for credit was of value and so was good consideration.

This Case is Authority For…

Morris LJ noted that the court is not interested in the adequacy of any consideration provided. The fact that the wife was unlikely to return to her husband (which diminished the value of her promise not to use his name for credit) was therefore not relevant.


Denning LJ argued that a person should be able to rely on an existing legal duty as consideration if the promise benefits the other party. For a long time this was not recognised as valid law, since it has long been recognised that a person cannot rely on an existing duty as consideration. However, recent developments since Williams v Roffey Bros [1990] 2 WLR 1153 have moved the law in this direction.