Elements of a Legally Enforceable Contract

Written by jean miller
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Elements of a Legally Enforceable Contract
A contract is a promise of duty. (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

According to Cornell University Law School, a contract creates obligations that must be met by the involved parties. Contracts are enforceable by law but need certain elements that define the scope of action required by both parties. Absence of these elements means the parties are not legally bound to each other, and the contract's terms become null and void.

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Provision of Offer

At its most basic level, a legal contract is enforceable only if an offer is made from one party to another, with both being in sound mind or existing as business entities. In most circumstances, the offer can be presented either verbally or in a written document. For example, when a person shops for car repairs, an offer is made when the repair shop states it will replace the front bumper in exchange for £325. The shopper can then decide to proceed with repairs or continue looking at other providers. An offer must be more than an "invitation to treat" in order to be valid. Merchandise displayed in a store window, for example, does not constitute an offer to buyers. It is merely an invitation for interested people to enter the store and browse for goods. An offer does not occur until a shopper takes merchandise to the register for price tendering.

Duration of Offer

The length of time an offer remains valid is an important contract element that can prevent confusion. For example, when an offer does not include a specific expiration date, it stays open for a "reasonable" period of time. This is subject to interpretation and will vary depending upon the situation. The best way to prevent such a scenario is to include an expiration date with the offer. Once that date is determined, the party making the offer cannot revoke it until the specified date is reached. Without an expiration date, however, the offer can be revoked at any time unless the other party accepts.

Absence of Conditions

A contract must be absent of conditions with regard to the acceptance and offer. When either of these elements is changed because of conditions, a contract is not established and instead the parties are simply negotiating. For example, if one person offers to wash another person's car for £6, the second party might respond by asking that the interior be vacuumed as well. This is known as a counter offer, and the first party has the right to accept or reject. Conditions cannot be contained within a binding contract.

Offer Acceptance

A person accepts an offer simply by indicating he or she agrees to the offer terms. This indication must be firm and clear, and an impartial bystander must be able to acknowledge the offer was indeed accepted. To illustrate, the scenario in which a person shops for car repairs cannot indicate his or her assent to an offer with, "I think that's a good deal." A response such as, "I agree," however, means the offer was accepted and the contract stands as valid. Acceptance must also be made prior to the offer's expiration date, unless the other party agrees to a renewal, or before the offer is revoked.

Consideration for Each Party

An enforceable contract must provide something of value to each involved party, or it is null and void. For example, if a person agrees to give his or her bicycle to another person without anything in exchange, the contract is not binding. This is because consideration was not given for the item of value, which in this case was the bicycle. In some situations, a gift is given in which a person provides another with a piece of jewellery or other item and asks for nothing in return. Such an occasion does not constitute a contract because consideration was not provided. Consideration is thus the cost given for another service or item of value.

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