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Combe v Combe [1951] 2 KB 215

PROMISSORY ESTOPPEL – CONSIDERATION – LORD DENNING

Facts

During the divorce process, a husband promised to pay his wife a tax-free sum of £100 each year to represent a permanent maintenance payment. The wife was aware that the husband was not in a good financial state and made no claim to this payment. Several years later, she brought an action to claim the arrears that were owed under their agreement.

Issue

This case was brought only four years after the landmark decision given in Central London Property Trust LD v High Trees House LD, which held that a party could not revert on an earlier promise made. Therefore, the court in this instance was required to consider whether the husband could withdraw from his earlier promise to pay the wife the sum of money. It was important for the court to understand whether the wife had given consideration in return for the husband’s promise and whether the wife could claim for the sum of money that had been promised previously, despite the fact she had not claimed for the money for several years. 

Held

The court held that the wife could only enforce her agreement for the payment which was promised by the husband if she had given consideration. The court found that no consideration was given by the wife as she had not agreed to apply for the maintenance that was promised by the husband. The husband did not request the wife to refrain from taking the maintenance payment and therefore the wife could not claim for the money.


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