Contract Consideration

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What Is "Consideration" in Contract Law?

In order for any contract to be enforceable, courts generally require three things: mutual assent (agreement to the contract terms), a valid offer and acceptance, and consideration. 

Consideration is basically the exchange of something of value in return for the promise or service of the other party. A legal consideration is one which results in either profit to one party or loss to another. For example, if A promises B movie tickets for B’s promise to mow his lawn, the movie tickets would be the consideration for the promise. B’s efforts at mowing the lawn would also be consideration.

In addition, the exchange must be “bargained for.” The exchange must be something that the parties agreed to prior to making the exchange. For example, B cannot suddenly mow A’s lawn and expect payment unless A and B agreed that the exchange would be made. Otherwise, B mowing A’s lawn would be treated as a gift.

Contract promises which are not supported by consideration are generally not enforceable. In fact, the requirement of consideration is what distinguishes a contract from a mere gift. If one party merely promises goods to another party without requiring them to do something in exchange, the transaction would be a gift and not a contract. 

What Does “Adequate Consideration” Mean?

In order for a contract to be enforceable, the consideration that is exchanged must be deemed “adequate”. This means that the mutual exchange must involve a fair price in comparison to the promise that is being made. 

For example, if A promises that B that they will sell them their house worth $50,000, and B offers to pay only $100, this consideration is probably not going to be “adequate”. However, if B offers to exchange services that are roughly worth $50,000, then the consideration would be considered adequate. (Note that consideration need not be money, but can take the form of anything that has legal value.)

Regarding the adequacy of consideration in a contract, the following principles are generally applied by a court in a contract setting:

Does a Contract Have to Contain Consideration to Be Enforceable?

Some contract laws allow for a substitute of consideration, such where one party has already reasonably relied upon the promise to their detriment (promissory estoppel). Promissory estoppel is when a court upholds a contract even though adequate consideration was never given because one party mislead the other party into believing that there was consideration. As a result of that misrepresentation, a party went through with the contract even though the other party never intended to make an agreement.

Do I need a Lawyer for Issues with Contract Consideration?

Consideration is often a central issue in most contract agreements. Consideration can also be an issue at several different stages of the contract, such as when the contract needs to be rewritten. Therefore it is very important that you understand the way that consideration may affect your contract. 

You may wish to contact a contracts lawyer if you have issues over contract consideration. Or, if you wish to draft a contract, your attorney can make sure that it satisfies consideration requirements.  

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Last Modified: 12-10-2013 11:20 AM PST

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