Contracts are about promises. In fact, one legal definition of a contract is: “a promise or set of promises for breach of which the law gives remedy.” A more abstract definition is that a contract is simply an “enforceable agreement.” Whatever the definition used, when people talk about the necessary or required “elements” of a contract, what they are really talking about is what it takes to make a promise or agreement “valid” so that it can be enforced in a court of law.

Actually, it is misleading in some ways to talk about the elements of a “valid” contract because that suggests some specific magical terms are needed to form a contract. That is not true. Instead, there are certain things courts routinely look for before they will enforce a contract. These things, elements if you will, are “necessary” in the sense that doubt about them creates doubt about the enforceability of the contract. Whether there is a contract in the first place is a matter of contract formation, whether what was formed is valid or enforceable or not. Click here for a discussion of contract formation.

It is often said that every contract must have: 1) capacity; 2) consent; 3) a lawful object and 4) consideration. That is true, as far as it goes, but what is being tested is the social utility of a particular agreement. Capacity, consent and the rest are just things one would expect to find in a bargain that benefits society by helping individuals order their economic life. When one or more are missing, society may decline to enforce the exchange.
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