Has anyone ever broken a promise to you? If that promise amounted to a contract, you may have rights to enforce it, including the right to compel performance or recover money damages for breach.
Some people are surprised to learn that, with few exceptions, a contract does not have to be in writing to be valid and enforceable. Rather, a contract is any legally enforceable agreement, including a verbal agreement. A legally enforceable contract contains three basic components: (1) an offer; (2) acceptance of the offer; and (3) consideration.
A number of rules govern what constitutes a valid offer and acceptance, but for the most part, they are what you would expect them to be. An offer is a manifestation of one person’s intent to enter into a contract, and an acceptance is the manifestation of the other person’s intent to enter the contract on the terms offered.
Consideration is a legal term of art. Basically, it is the idea that each party to the contract must give something up as part of the bargained-for exchange. A promise to do something for free, for instance, is not enforceable because there is no consideration—that is, the other party is not giving anything up as part of the exchange. This is true regardless of whether the agreement is in writing.
However, not all agreements supported by an offer, acceptance, and consideration will be enforceable. Occasionally parties will be excused from performance, such as when they lack legal capacity to enter into an agreement, when they do so under duress or relying on material misrepresentations, or when the contract’s terms are unconscionable. Additionally, some contracts by their nature must be in writing to be enforceable, such as real estate sales contracts. On the other hand, adhesion contracts, or form contracts presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, are generally enforceable.