In law, to distinguish a case means to compare the facts of the case before the court from the facts of a case of precedent where there is an apparent similarity. By successfully distinguishing a case, the holding or legal reasoning of the earlier case will either not apply or will be limited.

Whether a case is successfully distinguished often looks to whether the distinguished facts are material to the matter.

Both cases Balfour v. Balfour (1919) and Merrit v. Merrit (1971), involve a wife making a claim against her husband for breach of contract. The judge in Balfour decided that a claim could not be made because there was no intention to create legal regulations, there was no legally binding contract. However in Merrit v. Merrit, the judge decided that the facts of this case was sufficiently different in that, whilst the parties were husband and wife, the agreement was made after they had separated, in writing, thus distinguishing the case from Balfour.

Spotted cow

An analogy taught in law school is that of a case involving black and white spotted cows. A lawyer in a subsequent case involving brown spotted cows might distinguish the facts on the color of the spots.

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