Balfour v Balfour [1919] 2 KB 571

Key point

  • There is a presumption against intention to create legal relations in the context of marriage


  • A civil servant in Ceylon (D), moved with his wife (C) to England
  • When it came time to return to Ceylon, C had to stay due to ill health, with D promising to pay her $30 per month
  • C sought to enforce the promise

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • There was no binding contract
  • Atkin LJ: there was no intention to create legal relations
  • Warrington LJ: the wife had provided no consideration

Atkin LJ: p. 579 – 580

Non-contractual agreements

  • There are agreements which do not result in contract, such as taking a walk though there is offer and acceptance of hospitality
  • Arrangements between spouses, including agreements for allowances, commonly are not contract even though consideration might exist

Rationale excluding such agreements

  • It is impractical for the courts to enforce such agreements due to the heavy case load that would result
  • The parties never intended such agreement to be sued upon
  • “The consideration that really obtains for them is that natural love and affection which counts for so little in these cold Courts”
  • “The principles of the common law … find no place in the domestic code”

Current case

  • The onus is on C to prove that there was a contract but she has not discharged that burden


  • Balfour must now be read in light of Radmacher v Granatino when dealing with pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements