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Sorry, Love Isn't Enough for a Legal Contract

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

The love that binds is not enough to create a legally binding contract, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 6-1 decision, Ohio's highest court affirmed a legal principle settled by Ohio case law in the 1800s: Love and affection are not consideration for a contract.

The case involved a cohabitating couple and proceeds from the sale of their house, The Columbus Dispatch reports. A March 2005 contract gave Frederick Ormsby, 57, of Medina, Ohio, the first $324,000 in proceeds from the sale; the rest would go to his then-fiancée Amber Williams.

But in a June 2005 contract, the couple agreed to split the home-sale proceeds 50/50 if they ever broke up -- which they did in 2008.

In the June contract, Frederick Ormsby offered to give up his guaranteed share of proceeds for a 50/50 split, the court held. But Amber Williams offered only love and affection in the contract.

“There is no detriment to Amber in the June 2005 document, only benefit,” the Ohio court wrote in invalidating the June contract.

To form a legally binding contract, both parties must agree to offer something of value — called consideration in contract law. There is no set amount of consideration required, but a court may invalidate a contract if there’s no consideration at all.

Because Williams offered no consideration in the June contract, the March contract controls, the court held.

But in a partial dissent, Justice Paul Pfeifer argued Amber Williams offered more than just “love and affection.” Had the house sold for $1 million, for example, Williams would have made about $700,000 under the March contract — but just $500,000 under the June contract, Pfeifer explained. That shows the June contract was supported by valid consideration and should have been upheld, Pfeiffer said.

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