Shadwell v Shadwell – Case Summary

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Shadwell v Shadwell (1860) 9 CB NS 159; 142 ER 52

Performance of a duty imposed by a contract with a Third Party


The defendant was the plaintiff’s uncle. The uncle promised to pay his nephew £150 a year until the nephew’s income reached 600 guineas provided the nephew married his fiancée. The uncle paid 12 instalments but then died, and the payments stopped. The nephew sued his uncle’s estate for the remaining payments.


A marriage contract was legally enforceable at the time. However, the marriage contract was between the nephew and his fiancée, and was not mad with the uncle. The defendants claimed that as a result the nephew had provided no consideration for the uncle’s promise to pay him. This was a voluntary gift and could not be enforced. The nephew argued that his going through with the marriage was consideration.


Erle CJ said that performance of the marriage contract was consideration, even though the contract was made with a third party to the agreement, as the uncle’s promise was an inducement to the nephew to perform this contract. He said that the plaintiff had, by getting married, made a material change in his position and had induced his wife to do the same. They may have incurred pecuniary liabilities that would be a loss to them if the promised income was withheld. He recognised that marriage could be a benefit to interested relatives, and so the uncle did derive a benefit from the marriage. Therefore, the marriage was good consideration. 

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