Mr. Balfour and his wife went to England for a vacation, and his wife became ill and needed medical attention. They made an agreement that Mrs. Balfour was to remain behind in England when the husband returned to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and that Mr. Balfour would pay her £30 a month until he returned. This understanding was made while their relationship was fine; however the relationship later soured. The lower court found that there was sufficient consideration in the consent of Mrs. Balfour and thus found the contract binding, which Mr. Balfour made an appeal.
- Was Mr. Balfour correct in making his decision?
- Does the fact that they were husband and wife matter?
Atkin held that the law of contracts is not made for personal family relationships. As there was no intent to be legally bound when the agreement was agreed upon, there can be no legally binding contract. Atkin holds that if the courts were to allow all wives to come to court when agreements had been broken with their husbands then the courts would be overrun with frivolous cases.
Warrington, concurring in the result, agreed substantially with Atkin, but added that there was no bargain of any kind made by Mrs. Balfour sufficient for a binding contract.
Promises in spousal (or for that matter, family) roles aren't legally binding.