Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Balfour v Balfour [1919] 2 KB 571

1. Whether there was a valid contract betwwn the parties.
2. whether Mr balfour was under obligation to support his wife.

Mr Balfour was a civil engineer, and worked for the goverment as the director of Irrigaton in Ceylon (now sri lanka). Mrs balfour was living with him. In 1915, they both came back to England during Mr Balfour's leave. But Mrs Balfour got rheumatic arthritis. Her doctor advised her to stay, because a jungle climate was not conductive to her health. As Mr balfour's boat was about to set sail, he promised her $30 a month until he came back to Ceylon. They drifted apart, and Mr Balfour wrote saying it was better that they remain apart. In march 1918, Mr Balfour send him to keep up with the monthly $30 payments. In July got a decree nisi and in December she obtained an order for alimoney.

At first instance, Sargant J held that Mr Balfour was under an obligation to support his wife the court of Appeal unanimously held that there was no enforceable agreement, although the depth of their reasoning differed. Warringyon LJ delivered hos opinion first, the core part being this passage (at 574-575)

" The matter really reduce itself to an absurdity when one considers it, because if we were to hold that there was a contract in this case we should have to hild that with regard to all the more or less trivial concerns of life where a wife, at the request of her husband, makes a promise to him, that is a promise which can be enforced in law. All i can say is that there is no such contract here, these two people never intended to make a bargin which could be enforced in lae . The husband expressed his intention to make this payment, and he promised to make it, and was bound in honour to continue it so long as he was in a position to do so. The wife on the other hand, so far as I can see, made on bargain at all. That is in my poinion sufficient to dispose if he case. "

Then Duke LJ gave his. he placed weight on the fact that the parties had not yet been divorced and that the promise had been made still whilst as husband and wife.

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