Cohen v Cohen (1929): A Quick Summary

Cohen v Cohen (1929) is a contract law case from Australia that revolved around a dispute between a married couple, Mr. Cohen and Mrs. Cohen. The question was whether there existed a legal intention that can give rise to contractual relations.

Given below are the case details:

Case name & citation:Cohen v Cohen [1929] HCA 15; (1929) 42 CLR 91
The concerned Court:High Court of Australia
Decided on:04 June 1929
The learned judge:Dixon J
Area of law:Intention to create legal relations (husband and wife)

Facts of the case (Cohen v Cohen)

The parties involved in this case married in 1918 and subsequently separated in 1923. In 1928, a lawsuit was filed by the plaintiff whereby she claimed money against the defendant which she asserted was owed to her by the defendant. The case concerned several disputes between the husband and wife over financial matters, one of which was over a dress allowance. The plaintiff (wife) stated that before they were married, the defendant agreed to give her £100 per year as a dress allowance. The payments were made in quarterly amounts of £25 a quarter until January 1920, but later £278 remained unpaid between the period 1920 to 1923 when they separated. Mrs. Cohen sought recovery of the outstanding amount.

Issue that arose

The judges found that a significant issue arises in ascertaining the nature of the consideration involved in this matter. Whether the contract of marriage itself could act as a valid consideration for Mr. Cohen’s promise to pay a dress allowance?

And more importantly, whether there was an intention to create legal relations.

Judgment of the Court in Cohen v Cohen

The Court decided that since the contract (or promise) of marriage was probably already in existence and had been made before the promise to pay dress allowance, it would be rendered inadequate as consideration. Further, the Court found that this question of consideration shall be relevant only if the arrangement of dress allowance was meant to create legally binding obligations. But in the opinion of the judges, the arrangement was not one that was intended to give rise to legal obligations. It was purely an informal domestic agreement between a husband and wife and hence was not enforceable.

Hence, Mrs. Cohen’s claim was not successful in this particular instance.

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