A written legal contract is an agreement between two or more individuals. In order for a contract to be considered lawfully binding, it should be signed by each person to whom the contract applies. Specific terms about what the parties agree to, as well as the penalty or consequence for a contract breach, should be included within the language. While both written and oral agreements are considered legally-binding, it can be difficult to prove an oral agreement in court, since there is seldom evidence. A signed, written contract will ensure that all parties understand the expectations.
First and foremost, for a contract to be legal, it must be signed by all parties. Usually, the signatures are located at the very end of the document, along with the date it was executed. It is a good idea to have it notarized by a registered notary public, which proves that the signatures belong to the intended parties. Witnesses, if present, may also sign it.
While the absence of a notary or witness signature might not affect the validity of the contract, it can influence the outcome of a case, if one party were to challenge its authenticity. Except for the final signature page, all other pages should be initialed. This is to confirm that everyone is agreeing to the same terms.
Any changes to the original text should also be initialed at the location the change takes place. In other words, if the second paragraph is crossed-out, both parties would initial along the margin of that passage. A legal contract proves agreement by all parties on all issues. Initialing changes acknowledges that understanding.
The front of the contract should be titled to specify the purpose of the contract. This is done for clarity, but also in case one party needs to reference the agreement in court. For example, if the contract is an agreement for one person to perform as a photographer for another’s wedding, the contract might be titled “Wedding Photographer Agreement,” or something similar. It is also important to clearly state the first and last names of the people who are parties to the contract on the first page. These are the individuals that must sign the agreement.
The document should include the date it becomes effective and the date it terminates, along with any provisions for how the agreement could be canceled early. Clearly stating the expectations of each party is very important. It should also contain a section that describes the consequences in case there is a breach in the contract, which can include who will pay attorney fees or even which court jurisdiction will handle disputes. The more information contained within the document, the better. Anything omitted could be left open to interpretation for a judge to decide later.