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Balfour V Balfour Case Brief

Balfour V. Balfour Case Summary

Balfour V. Balfour Case Citation [1919] 2 K.B. 571


  • Mr.Balfour and Mrs.Balfour was a married couple who lived together in Ceylon (today Srilanka).
  • They went to England for a vacation in the year 1915. Mrs.Balfour was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis and due to her medical condition, doctors advised her not to leave the country. She couldn’t travel but Mr. Balfour had to return back to Ceylon for his office work.
  • Therefore, they both decided that Mr. Balfour shall send her £30 every month as maintenance until she returns back to Ceylon.
  • He sent the particular amount to his wife for several months but as time passed their marriage deteriorated and he stopped paying the amount of maintenance to his wife.
  • Mrs.Balfour brought an action against her husband and sued him to enforce the verbal agreement made by him.


  • Whether there was a valid contract between the plaintiff and the defendant?
  • Did Mr. Balfour ever intended to enter into any sort of agreement?
  • Does every verbal agreement amounts to a contract?
  • Does an agreement between husband and wife is enforceable in the court of law?
  • Whether the domestic agreements fall into the jurisdiction of contract law?


This is a case from English law , and according to the English contract law; to enforce any agreement as a contract we need two main elements in that agreement –


b) Intention to create a legal relationship

The doctrine of intention to create a legal obligation was with regard to public policy and it was not related to domestic agreement in any manner.


The court held that such agreements do not reach the status of a contract because in such types of domestic agreements, the parties do not intend to be attended by legal consequences. The particular agreement was not a legal contract but merely a domestic promise which cannot be sued upon. The court cannot interfere between day to day affairs of husband and wife.


It was observed that if such domestic agreements will be entertained by the court of law, this will open floodgates to unlimited litigations.

There was a presumption in such circumstances that the parties had no intention to create legal relations while making the agreement. So the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff to prove that there exists a valid contract which refute the presumption. Hence the presumption was not refuted by Mrs. Balfour and Mr. Balfour’s appeal was allowed.

Current Day Significance

It is a landmark case, since it gave birth to the “doctrine to create legal intentions”. This doctrine has been used later in many cases as a precedent. In Emorgenous v. Greek Orthodox Community of SA Inc (2002) 209 CLR 95, it was held that if there was no intention to create legal relation, there can be no remedy. This case is of vital importance whose viewpoint is not likely to change in the next few years.


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