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Binding contracts must contain an offer, acceptance and consideration

An offer made and accepted becomes legally binding when consideration is exchanged. Promise with care.
by Paula Burkes Published: June 1, 2012

Q&A with Matt Hopkins

Binding contracts must contain offer, acceptance, consideration

Q: What makes a promise legally enforceable?

A: To form a binding contract, a promise must contain three elements — offer, acceptance and consideration. More than one party must be involved. Someone must make an offer and someone else must accept it. If I make a private promise to myself, nobody else has standing to enforce it. But when I declare my promise publicly, I must exercise caution.

Q: Can you provide an example?

A: If I say to my spouse, “I resolve to jog every day this year,” she will see the futility and dismiss it. There is no offer and no acceptance. But if I say to her, “I will exercise daily if you will give up carbonated beverages,” and she takes the bait, I may have a problem. I made an offer. She accepted. If there is consideration for the deal, it becomes a binding contract that at least one of us is doomed to violate.

Q: What is consideration?

A: Each party must agree to either do something or refrain from doing something as payment. Normally, my wife is free to drink every diet beverage she can stand, and I am free to vegetate at will. So, if she agrees to give up the juice, and I agree to exercise, we have each provided consideration and we have a contract that either of us could, theoretically, enforce in court.

To summarize, an offer made and accepted becomes legally binding when consideration is exchanged. Promise with care.


by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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