Assignment vs. novation: What's the difference? An assignment agreement transfers one party's rights and obligations under a contract to another party. The party transferring their rights and duties is the assignor; the party receiving them is the assignee. Novation is a mechanism where one party transfers all its obligations and rights under a contract to a third party, with the consent of the original counterparty.


The transfer of a benefit or interest from one party to another is referred to as an assignment. While the benefits can be transferred, the obligation or burden behind the contract cannot be. A contract assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. The benefit that the issuing party would have received from the contract is now assigned to the third party. The party appointing their rights is referred to as the assignor, while the party obtaining the rights is the assignee. 

The assignor continues to carry the burden and can be held liable by the assignee for failing to fulfill their duties under the contract. Purchasing an indemnity clause from the assignee may help protect the assignor from a future liability. Unlike notation, assignment contracts do not annul the initial agreement and do not establish a new agreement. The original or initial contract continues to be enforced. 

Assignment contracts generally do not require the authorization from all parties in the agreement. Based on the terms, the assignor will most likely only need to notify the nonassigning party.

In regards to a contract being assignable, if an agreement seems silent or unclear, courts have decided that the contract is typically assignable. However, this does not apply to personal service contracts where consent is mandatory. The Supreme Court of Canada, or SCC, has determined that a personal service contract must be created for the original parties based on the special characteristics, skills, or confidences that are uniquely displayed between them. Many times, the courts need to intervene to determine whether an agreement is indeed a personal service contract.

Overall, assignment is more convenient for the assignor than novation. The assignor is not required to ask for approval from a third party in order to assign their interest in an agreement to the assignee. The assignor should be aware of the potential liability risk if the assignee doesn't perform their duties as stated in the assigned contract.

Novation has the potential to limit future liabilities to an assignor, but it also is usually more burdensome for the parties involved. Additionally, it's not always achievable if a third party refuses to give consent.

It's essential for the two parties in an agreement to appraise their relationship before transitioning to novation. An assignment is preferential for parties that would like to continue performing their obligations, but also transition some of their rights to another party.


A novation occurs when a party would like to transfer both the benefits and the burden within a contract to another party. Similar to assignment, the benefits are transferred, but unlike assignment, the burden is also transferred. When a novation is completed, the original contract is deleted and is replaced with a new one. In this new contract, a third party is now responsible for the obligations and rights. Generally, novation does not cancel any past obligations or rights under the initial contract, although it is possible to novate these as well.

Novation needs to be approved by both parties of the original contract and the new joining third party. Some amount of consideration must also be provided in the new contract in order for it to be novated, unless the novation is cited in a deed that is signed by all parties to the contract. In this situation, consideration is referring to something of value that is being gained through the contract.

Novation occurs when the purchaser to the original agreement is attempting to replace the seller of an original contract. Once novated, the original seller is released from any obligation under the initial contract. The SCC has established a three-point test to implement novation. The asserting party must prove:

  1. The purchaser accepts complete liability
  2. The creditor to the original contract accepts the purchaser as the official debtor, and not simply as a guarantor or agent of the seller
  3. The creditor to the original contract accepts the new contract as the replacement for the old one

Also, the SSC insisted that if a new agreement doesn't exist, the court would not find novation unless the precedence was unusually compelling.

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