Contracts are fundamental to the society in which we live. Contracts can be for any number of things from the purchase of simple goods and services to large complicated mergers between multinational corporations. Some contracts are oral agreements between parties, some contracts are written and negotiated by lawyers, some contracts are subject to statute, and some other contracts are completed by a party making an open offer and another party performing the required thing.
A contract, simply put, is a promise to do something or bear some burden in exchange for consideration from another party. The most important elements of a contract are offer, acceptance, and consideration. In order for there to be a contract, one party must make an offer to another party to do something, such as pay money or provide goods or service in exchange for the other party to do something such as pay money, or provide goods or services. The other party having received this offer must accept the offer for the contract to be binding.
Some people believe that a contract must be in writing to be enforceable. This is not accurate. There are some contracts which must be in writing as per the statute of frauds. However, many contracts are unwritten, and for many contracts it would not make sense to reduce every detail down to writing. Our daily lives would grind to a halt if every time we purchased gas or groceries we had to sign a contract setting out the terms and conditions of our purchase.
Unfortunately this lack of constant reading of contracts often causes average people to enter binding contracts without fully understanding what they are promising. How often do we click “I accept” when installing new software on our computers without reading the details of what we are accepting?
Written contracts are still important in many circumstances. Any time a person is transferring land, the contract must be in writing. A written contract is helpful if one party does not fulfil their end of the contract as it makes it easier to prove the breach. Written contracts help avoid confusion as to what each person is required to do to fulfil their promise under the contract.
Many contracts that people enter into are not put into writing when they should be. Employment contracts are the first that come to mind, but people often run into these problems with tenancies, separations and business agreements. If you find yourself entering into a contract, it is best to get legal advice to ensure that you understand what you are promising to do, and what the other party is promising to do in exchange.
Scott Buchanan is an associate at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. For more articles, visit the Library Page at www.cobbjones.ca.