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contract

contract, in law, a promise, enforceable by law, to perform or to refrain from performing some specified act. In a general sense, all civil obligations fall under tort or contract law. Torts are usually characterized as violations of duties that are imposed on all persons and that have been established entirely by law. In contracts, on the other hand, the parties determine, at least in part, what their obligations to one another will be. Special types of contracts are given separate articles, e.g., negotiable instrument, insurance, and deed.

Criteria for Enforcement

For a contract to be valid, both parties must indicate that they agree to its terms. This is accomplished when one party submits an offer that the other accepts within a reasonable time or a stipulated period. If the terms of the acceptance vary from those of the offer, that "acceptance" legally constitutes a counteroffer; the original offering party may then accept it or reject it. At any time prior to acceptance, the offer may be rescinded on notice unless the offering party is bound by a separate option contract not to withdraw. Only those terms expressed in the contract can be enforced; secret intentions are not recognized. For a contract to be binding, it must not have an immoral or a criminal purpose or be against public policy.

Other criteria for the enforcement of contracts have varied. In the earliest type of enforceable promises, it was the form of the contract (e.g., a sealed instrument) or the ceremony accompanying its execution that marked the essence of the transaction; contracts not sealed or not dignified by ceremonies held a lesser status, and were therefore not always enforceable. The importance of promises in commercial and industrial society produced a new criterion, and generally a promise is now enforceable only if it is made in exchange for consideration, i.e., a payment, for some action, or for another promise. In some jurisdictions, statutes have made certain promises enforceable without consideration, e.g., promises to pay debts barred by the statute of limitations. To be enforceable, most contracts must be in writing, to comply with the Statute of Frauds (see Frauds, Statute of).

Since a contract is an agreement, it may be made only by parties with the capacity to reach an understanding. Therefore, individuals suffering from severe mental illness are unable to make binding contracts. Until the late 19th cent., married women were also without contractual capacity, because at common law they were considered the creatures of their husbands and without wills of their own (see husband and wife); this disability has been removed by statute universally. Minors are not bound by their contracts, but they are responsible for the value of goods received in contracts made for necessities of life. Otherwise, a minor may denounce his contracts at any time and on attaining majority may elect whether to affirm or repudiate them (see age of consent).

A contract must also be the uncoerced agreement of the parties; thus, if it is procured by duress or fraud it is void. A contract can be unenforceable if it is so one-sided as to be found unconscionable, where the terms are unreasonably favorable to one party; often the material that constitutes unconscionability is buried in fine print or expressed in obfuscatory jargon. Adhesion contracts, which afford no occasion for the weaker party to bargain over their terms, are often offered to purchasers of consumer goods and services, but are not necessarily unconscionable.

Termination of Contracts

While a contract is still wholly or partly unperformed it is termed executory; contracts may terminate, however, in ways other than by being fully executed. If the object of the contract becomes impossible or unlawful, if the parties make a novation (a new superseding agreement), or if the death of one party prevents that party from rendering personal services he or she had agreed to perform, the contract is terminated. The injured party may also treat the contract as a nullity if the other party refuses to perform. The law provides several remedies for breach of contract. The most usual is money damages for the loss incurred. In cases where some action other than the payment of money was contracted for, a court may grant the plaintiff an injunction ordering specific performance. If one party is unjustly enriched by a contract that he or she then repudiates legally, restitution may be required. A typical example of this is ordering a minor who revokes a contract to restore the things of value that were obtained.

Bibliography

See studies by E. J. Murphy and R. E. Speidel (1984); H. Collins (1986); R. B. Summers and R. A. Hillman (1987); P. S. Atiyah (1988).

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contract

con·tract • n. / ˈkänˌtrakt/ a written or spoken agreement, esp. one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law. ∎  the branch of law concerned with the making and observation of such agreements. ∎ inf. an arrangement for someone to be killed by a hired assassin: smuggling bosses routinely put out contracts on witnesses. ∎  Bridge the declarer's undertaking to win the number of tricks bid with a stated suit as trump. ∎ dated a formal agreement to marry. • v. 1. / kənˈtrakt/ [intr.] decrease in size, number, or range. ∎  (of a muscle) become shorter or tighter in order to effect movement of part of the body: the heart is a muscle that contracts about seventy times a minute | [tr.] then contract your lower abdominal muscles. ∎  [tr.] shorten (a word or phrase) by combination or elision. 2. / ˈkänˌtrakt; kənˈtrakt/ [intr.] enter into a formal and legally binding agreement: the local authority will contract with a wide range of agencies to provide services. ∎  secure specified rights or undertake specified obligations in a formal and legally binding agreement: the paper had contracted to publish extracts from the diaries. ∎  impose an obligation on (someone) to do something by means of a formal agreement. ∎  [tr.] (contract something out) arrange for work to be done by another organization. ∎  [tr.] dated formally enter into (a marriage). ∎  [tr.] enter into (a friendship or other relationship). 3. / kənˈtrakt/ [tr.] catch or develop (a disease or infectious agent). 4. / kənˈtrakt/ [tr.] become liable to pay (a debt). DERIVATIVES: con·tract·ee / ˌkänˌtrakˈtē/ n. con·trac·tive / kənˈtraktiv; ˈkänˌtraktiv/ adj.

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"contract." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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contract

contract 2
A. agree upon, make a contract;

B. incur, be involved in;

C. reduce in compass or in limits. XVI. Based partly on earlier contract pp. (now used only of contracted grammatical forms) — OF. — L. contractus, pp. of contrahere, f. CON- + trahere draw.
So contraction XIV. contractor †contracting party XVI; undertaker of a work XVIII. — late L.; see -OR 1.

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"contract." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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contract

contract In law, an agreement between parties that can be legally enforced. A contract creates rights and obligations which can be enforced by law.

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"contract." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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contract

contract 1 sb. XIV. — OF. (mod. contrat) — L. contractus, f. pp. stem of contrahere; see next.

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contract

contractabreact, abstract, act, attract, bract, compact, contract, counteract, diffract, enact, exact, extract, fact, humpbacked, hunchbacked, impact, interact, matter-of-fact, pact, protract, redact, refract, retroact, subcontract, subtract, tact, tract, transact, unbacked, underact, untracked •play-act • autodidact •artefact (US artifact) • cataract •contact •marked, unremarked •Wehrmacht •affect, bisect, bull-necked, collect, confect, connect, correct, defect, deflect, deject, detect, direct, effect, eject, elect, erect, expect, infect, inflect, inject, inspect, interconnect, interject, intersect, misdirect, neglect, object, perfect, project, prospect, protect, reflect, reject, respect, resurrect, sect, select, subject, suspect, transect, unchecked, Utrecht •prefect • abject • retroject • intellect •genuflect • idiolect • dialect • aspect •circumspect • retrospect • Dordrecht •vivisect • architect • unbaked •sun-baked

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"contract." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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