A contract is defined as a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties containing one or more promises. It is essentially an agreement between two or more persons wherein one person binds himself to perform an act in exchange for the promise of another.
Generally, a valid and enforceable contract has several features. There must be : 1) an agreement; 2) between competent parties; 3) based on genuine assent of both parties; 4) supported by valuable consideration; 5) that does not contravene principles of law; and 6) that must be in writing in certain circumstances.
An agreement requires a meeting of the minds between two or more parties who expressed their willingness to be bound by the terms of the contract. In general, a contract starts with an offer by a party and the acceptance by the other. To constitute a valid contract, the acceptance of an offer should be communicated to the offeror. Otherwise, the person who made the definite offer is not bound by the acceptance of the other and there is no contract between the parties.
In a valid contract, both parties should be competent to enter into a contract. Competence means that both parties to a contract should have reached the age of majority and that they should be of sound mind. Under the law of contracts, a minor is incapable of giving a valid consent to a contract because it is presumed that he is not capable of making the right decisions that will serve his best omterest. For example, if a minor enters into a contract for the purchase of a car, the said contract is valid but voidable. When a minor enters into a voidable contract, the minor can later on disaffirm the contract by manifesting before the seller that he does not intend to be bound by the contract. The person who is of age who contracted with the minor cannot disaffirm the contract. In most jurisdictions, a minor cannot repudiate the contract pertaining to necessaries since these will redound to the benefit of the child.
In the case of Ryder v Wombell (1868) LR 4 Exch 32, Wombell who was a minor at the time bought a pair of crystal, ruby, diamond solitaires and an antique goblet in silver gilt from Ryder, a Bond Street jeweler. When Wombell could not pay the contract price, Ryder filed a suit in court. The lord chief justice said that the items purchased by Wombell were not necessaries for a minor with an income of ₤500 per annum. He cannot therefore be required by the court to pay for these items.
The law on contracts also requires that the contract should be based on genuine assent otherwise the contract may be voidable. This means that neither party to the contract is induced to enter into the contract by means of fraud, duress, undue influence or mistake. A contract should be freely entered into between the parties. If an individual threatens another that he will hurt the other person in order to compel him to sell his land, the contract is voidable because of defective consent. In the same manner when one of the parties to a contact exerts improper advantage of his power over the will of another, the contract is voidable. In determining whether there is undue influence exerted upon one of the parties to a contract, the courts will look into the confidential, family and spiritual relations of the parties, the mental weakness, the ignorance or the level of financial distress of the person alleged to have been unduly influenced.
The contract should be supported by a consideration. This means that one party to a contract who promises to enter into a contract with another and to perform or deliver an object should actually receive something in exchange for his promises. Otherwise, the contract will be void or will have no effect.
The contract should not contravene any of the principles of law. This means that the contract should not be against the law. Thus, there can be no valid and enforceable contract involving prostitution, murder, or bigamous marriage because they are against the law.
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