Contracts

What is contract law?

Contract law basically deals with contracts (both enforceable written and oral agreements) as well as contract disputes. Contract disputes fall into several different categories. These are normally (1) commercial contracts between businesses where one business is suing another business; (2) consumer contracts where one party to the transaction is a consumer who is suing a business for breach of warranty, breach of contract, or consumer fraud; or (3) breach of contract between individuals which may be written or verbal.

Why should you consult an attorney?

Contract law is surprisingly complex, as there are several factors that must be considered to determine the most probable outcome of a contracts case. First, one must see if a contract is written or not. If there is a written document, you must look at whether the written document contains all of the agreements between the parties.  This is important to the case, because sometimes the parties enter into a written contract, then one party will later claim that the parties made an oral agreement that changed the written agreement. However, the courts will often find that without supporting evidence, the so-called “oral contract is invalid, preferring to look at the written contract as the evidence of the parties’ intent.

In other words, written contracts are easier than oral contracts to enforce, so it is always best to get such contracts in writing. Even if it is with your family and friends. And if your family members and/or friends have a problem writing the terms of the contract down, you can always remind them that a written contract protects their interests too as much as it does yours. A classic example would be if you loaned a family member money, and he was to pay it back, but he later died. With that contract, you can collect the amount owed to you from the estate. Otherwise, it is very unlikely that you will get your money back.

However, there are ways that contracts can be enforced, even if they are verbal. However, these cases are often complex, and need an attorney to examine the facts in order to make a valid determination. Likewise, there are some contracts that are written down that may not be enforceable.

The following is a classic example of what I am talking about. Let’s say there is a husband and a wife who are happily married, except that the wife wants children, but the husband does not. Eventually, the husband agrees to adopt, but only if the wife agrees to sign a postnuptial agreement that leaves her with one-tenth of the marital property in the event of a divorce. Yet without the husband’s cooperation, the adoption cannot take place. So the wife signs the postnuptial agreement, with the document clearly stating in writing that the reason she is signing it is so the husband will agree to assist her in adopting a child.

Later, the husband and wife divorce, and the husband seeks to enforce the postnuptial agreement, while the wife argues that she was forced to sign the document under duress. Is this legal?

Based on current Tennessee law, the answer is no, but not for the reason you might expect. Although many people would believe that the wife was made to sign the postnuptial agreement under duress, the Tennessee Appellate Court found that because she had access to council, the postnuptial agreement was not signed under duress.

So why did the Court find that the postnuptial unenforceable? The answer is that the entire contract, or postnuptial agreement, was illegal to begin with. Since 1950, Tennessee has ruled that children are not consideration (consideration basically being the motivation or item of value that one party hopes to get as a result of the completion of the contract or agreement). In the example that I am describing, the wife signed the postnuptial agreement because of the husband’s promise to proceed with the adoption, but only if she signed the postnuptial agreement. In other words, she signed the contract because she hoped to get a child via the adoption process, and her husband had the power to stop the adoption process. However, a child (the selling of children, the adoption of children, etc.) cannot be the basis of a contract. Thus, the Court ruled that the entire postnuptial agreement was illegal. Therefore, the entire contract was thrown out.

By the way, the above example is based on an actual case of Stutz v. Stutz, Tennessee Appellate Court, Eastern Division, August 23, 2005.

As you can see, the area of contract law is extremely complex, and no two cases are alike. That is why it is important to have an attorney to review the circumstances of your case and assist you accordingly.

Why should you consider me as your attorney in your contracts case?

As I have explained before, the laws concerning contracts are complex, as they often overlap with different areas of law. As an attorney, I am familiar with contract law and am capable of assisting you in writing up a clear and concise contract that will protect your rights. I am also familiar with the laws of contracts and can assist you in determining whether (1) you are able to enforce a contract against another party or (2) if there are any viable defenses you can use to get out of a contract. Further, I am extremely thorough and detailed-oriented, and I will examine all possible factors in your case and help you make a reasonable determination as to your chances of winning or losing your contracts case.