Written vs. Verbal Agreements: What You Need to Know

By | January 16, 2012

We all know that in many cases, a document that has been written and signed has an ironclad force behind it, the full power of the justice system. But what do we really know about verbal agreements? If someone makes a promise verbally and breaks it, does that represent a broken contract – or simply a fib that cannot be punished by law?

If you have a potential case that is riding on a verbal or written agreement, you need to know more about the legal standing these “contracts” have, and what you may or may not be missing that could really solidify your case.

First, let’s look at the verbal agreement, or verbal contract.

Understanding the Spoken Contract

One of the major misconceptions about a verbal contract is that it is the same thing as an oral contract. But really, even a written contract could be considered a “verbal” contract because, well, it uses words.

An oral contract, on the other hand, is a promise that has been plainly spoken and not written down. When someone makes a promise about what they’re going to do and then does not do it, it could be considered a breach of their oral contract.

Generally, you’ll want to defer to your local state’s laws regarding oral contracts to understand how ironclad they can be by force of law. But if you have proof of an oral contract, you might have legal grounding to pursue litigation once a promise has been broken.

Written Contracts

In contrast to oral contracts, the written contract is a contract that not only has a promise made on it, but also serves as its own proof that the promise was made. For this reason, written contracts could be considered more “ironclad” than oral contracts, even though in many cases the two contracts can have the same force of law behind them.

The beauty of the written contract is that it serves the dual role of both the promise and the proof of the promise, which is why so many people are eager to get every major decision put into writing. It’s not enough, for example, for many employers to simply tell you that you’ve been hired; they like to put it into writing.

The Differences: Should You Worry?

In general, it’s better to pursue a written contract because of the reasons we just mentioned. But if all you have to go on is an oral contract, you might still be able to pursue effective litigation because of the broken promise that was made to you.

What’s important, however, is that you understand that it’s important to have some sort of proof that this oral contract took place. If it comes down to one person’s word against another’s, it can be difficult to find the justice you really deserve.

The more you know about contracts, the better able you’ll be to fight off any potential future problems. Yes, both oral and written contracts can carry the force of law. But are you sure you’ll be able to prove the contracts exist?

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