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Family Matters Versus The Law
Published Nov 13, 2020 IN Column, YOU & YOUR HEALTH,
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A valid Contract must have the basic ingredients of ‘Offer’, ‘Acceptance’ and ‘Consideration’. However, there are occasions when those ingredients seem to be present and yet no valid contact can be said to have been formed. This situation arises especially in ‘Contracts’ between family members, termed ‘DOMESTIC ARRANGE­MENTS’. The law respects the family as a unit of society and recognizes that for there to be social cohesion, peace and order must be maintained right from the level of the family. Therefore, litigation between spouses and among siblings, to all intents and purposes, is not encouraged. While, strictly speaking, there is no law forbidding nuclear family members from going into contracts, a court would always want to go the extra mile to examine the terms of a particular contract in order to establish that it is not a FAMILY MATTER - a case of ‘Domestic Arrangement’.


Mr. Wise Dee’s undergraduate son, Mr. CY Dee, was a 200 Level student of Civil Engineering in Fair City University. CY was a bright young man. He had made straight A’s in his set at Government College, coming out as the overall best student and gaining ‘one touch’ admission into the univer­sity that very same year. Mr. Wise Dee was so proud of this son of his; but the young man’s first and second semester results in his first year in the university shocked Mr. Wise Dee into believing that the thrill of campus life and bad peer influence was trying to make his son lose focus. Afraid that if nothing was done to arrest the ugly situation his son, CY, might end up with a poor result upon graduation, Mr. Wise Dee said to the young man as he was entering 200 Level:


‘Look, CY, if you graduate with a First Class, I’m going to buy you a brand new car of your choice to take to the place of your Primary Assignment when you begin your National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).’


Are you serious, Daddy?’ the young man asked him.


‘I’m dead serious, Son. And to prove to you that I am in ear­nest, I’m ready to put this promise down in black and white.’


‘Wow! In that case, let me call in my lawyer friend, Bar­rister BJ. Daddy, we have to sign it into an Agreement.’


‘Suits me,’ Mr. Wise Dee concurred.


And so CY called in Barrister BJ, his friend, who drafted the Agreement. Mrs. Dee stood as witness for her husband while Ada Dee stood as witness for her senior brother, CY. The Agreement was then ‘signed’, ‘sealed’ and ‘delivered’.


CY got down to business after his ‘contract’ with his fa­ther. He cut off ninety percent of his friends, retaining only the very studious ones. He cut out frivolities and faced his studies squarely. So hard did the young man study that at the end of his Course he had a very sound First Class, which made him a hero of his university, earning him that year’s Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Excellence.


Mr. Wise Dee was catapulted to cloud nine by his son’s result. He threw a lavish party in honour of this son of his who had done him exceedingly proud, and at that party he presented CY with an Apple laptop. Because of his training, CY needed such a laptop and was indeed grateful for it; but then, that was far from what he had been expecting from his father at that party.


‘When can I have the car, Daddy?’ he asked the old man when a few weeks later he received the call-up letter for his NYSC.


‘What car are you talking about?’ asked Mr. Wise Dee.


‘Ah-ah, Daddy, what do you mean by what car am I talking about? Remember the Agreement we signed o… Ah, are you asking “What Agreement”? Have you forgotten that we had it down in black and white - signed, sealed and delivered? All right… Please, give me a minute!’


And the young man rushed to his wardrobe and brought out the Agreement. Holding it before his father like a plac­ard, he declared:


‘Here it is, Daddy - all in black and white - signed, sealed and delivered.’


His father burst o ut laughing as he fixed his eyes on the red seals adorning the ‘Agreement’. Always a shrewd busi­nessman, Mr. Wise Dee was not fooled at all by the presence of those red seals on the so-called Agreement his son was holding up before him.


‘So, CY my son, you mean that if I hadn’t promised to buy you a car, you’d most probably have graduated with an Ordinary Pass, eh?’ he asked with a chuckle. ‘Ah-ah! Why would you in good conscience have presented me with a rotten result after all the money that I was pumping into your education?’


‘Daddy, that’s not the point. We had an Agreement on it. I’m not asking for too much. All I need is the new Toyota Camry - the latest model. You’re well-off, Daddy. Buying me a Camry won’t dent your account in the least.’


‘Of course, it won’t,’ Mr. Wise Dee agreed with his son, ‘but that’s hardly the point. I can’t finish putting you through the university and then be the one to buy you a car into the bargain. It’s not done, Son. To me, it’s a taboo. It’s you who should buy me cars from now onwards.’


There was no reasoning with Mr. Wise Dee as he stood his ground and refused to honour his Agreement with his son.


‘I’ve tried, my boy,’ he insisted. ‘It was because of your excellent result that I gave you that laptop.’


I don’t need the laptop, Daddy,’ CY lied in his anger. ‘Our Agreement says: “a new car of my choice” and not a laptop.’


His father only laughed at him. He stoutly refused to per­form the Agreement between them, and the young graduate refused to take it lying down. To him, his father’s action was a flagrant Breach of Contract. He went to his lawyer friend, Barrister BJ, with that Agreement he had signed with his father, and told the learned gentleman:


Look, Barrister, I’m ready to sue my Dad with my very first “Allowee” from the NYSC. He can’t just renege on his promise - just like that - especially since it is in the form of an Agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered.

It’s a Breach of Contract, Barrister. Is that not so?’


‘Cool down, my friend,’ said Barrister BJ with a grin. Then he went ahead to explain to his lay friend that his father was not bound by law to perform the said Promise because it was merely a ‘Domestic Arrangement’ not backed up by what any court could view as valid Consideration: his studying hard to earn an excellent result to make his father proud could hardly be termed ‘Consideration’ in law.


CY was aghast, and asked his lawyer friend why he had led him through the whole gamut of preparing a ‘Contract’ knowing full well that it was not worth the paper on which it was written.


‘Nothing ventures, nothing succeeds!’ was the lawyer’s reply. ‘That “Agreement” was just a shot in the dark - a mere gamble. I had hoped that your Dad would play ball and keep his promise, but it’s now obvious that he knew from the outset - as well as I did - that he was not bound by law to keep it. Better luck next time, CY my friend.


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