Does a valid Contract have to be in writing?
The simple answer is: no.
A contract is an agreement. It is legally defined as a “meeting of the minds”. If you can prove that there is a meeting of the minds, you have proof of a contract.
A meeting of the minds is when two parties agree to the same basic elements. Those elements are:
- Making an offer and accepting that same offer. The offer must be specific enough so as to discern what exactly is being offered, when, and for what value in exchange (point number 2 below) ;
- An exchange of value that is agreed upon (e.g. services, money, goods etc); and
- An intention on both parties to be legally bound.
This rule does not apply to illegal acts. In other words, you cannot have a contract to perform an illegal act. All parties must also have the capacity to offer or accept the “terms” of the contract as well as perform it. The offer and acceptance must be voluntary.
How do you prove a non-written contract? Cases have accepted inferring contract terms from the behavior of parties prior to the dispute. Any other piece of evidence may assist as well such as a draft on napkins, emails etc…
Although this rule is helpful, it is always best to keep record of the 3 elements listed above in writing. Saving emails, text messages, voicenotes… etc will help you prove your case and increase the chances of winning.
It is important to also note that this rule has exceptions. Those exceptions are the sale of lands, the sale of securities, domestic contracts for Family Law purposes, and insurance contracts in certain cases.
There are always ways to negate the validity of a contract that are not described in this article. There are indeed certain defences that prove that either or the entirety of the three elements above are non-existent. It is important to consult a lawyer and explain the full story surrounding your case to get the most accurate prediction on whether your claim to have a contract would succeed.