The definition of obligation in law refers to the responsibility to follow through on actions agreed upon in a contract, promise, law, oath, or vow.

Definitions of Obligation

In the original sense, the idea of obligation referred only to the responsibility to pay any money outlined in the terms of specific written documents. In order to be considered an obligation, the document had to be executed under the seal. In today's legal world, obligation refers to the requirement to participate in a certain action because of their agreement to another party or under the law.

Obligation is the moral or legal duty that requires an individual to perform, as well as the potential penalties for the failure to perform. An obligation is also a duty to do what is imposed by a contract, promise, or law. In the most general sense, duty is a synonym of obligation. When getting more technical, obligation refers to the tie that binds a party to complete a task, perform an action, or pay a required amount of money in accordance with the customs and laws of the country in which the agreement has been made.

An obligation can also refer to the writing or instrument by which one party witnesses the contract or agreement. Obligations still subsist, even when a civil obligation is similar to a bond that contains a penalty that includes a condition for payment or performance. A bill generally doesn't have conditions or penalties, although the actions outlined may be required, which is how a bill differs from an obligation. Another way to describe an obligation is a deed that binds a party to another under a potential penalty to complete an action.

In the most technical definition, obligation refers to a sealed instrument. In Black's Law Dictionary, obligation is a moral or legal duty to perform or not perform an act. Some legal scholars, including Fredrick Pollock, claim that obligation is another word for duty. The legal sense of obligation from early Roman law claims that obligations are the bond of vinculum juris, or legal necessity, between at least two individuals or parties.

Another legal scholar, John Salmond, stated that an obligation refers to the morals or laws that command or require an individual to perform an action. The obligation is effective because of any sanctions that exist for failure to comply with the terms. In today's legal system and current legal materials, obligation is singly or exactly defined. However, scholars often apply their own definitions based on their legal situations and systems. For example, judges in France might define obligation as the legally binding regulations between parties, outlining the requirements to perform an action or not perform an action.

Under the civil code in Ethiopia, Book IV refers to obligations but doesn't include a specific definition. Similar to the French judges, who use Article 1101 of the French civil code, judges in Ethiopia apply the principle of an obligation based on the legal circumstance. This agreement is between two or more parties or persons, in which they extinguish, vary, or create obligations in a legal sense.

Imperfect vs. Perfect Obligations

The two main types of obligations are:

  • Imperfect
  • Perfect

An imperfect obligation does not legally bind parties together and doesn't have the same legal implications for failure to perform. Instead, the non-performance on an imperfect obligation requires accountability to a higher power. Examples include gratitude and charity. In this definition, an imperfect obligation is simply a moral duty.

Perfect obligations give the right to one party to take legal action against the other party for failure to perform. These obligations can be moral, natural, or civil. A perfect obligation is personal as one party obliges themselves to perform an action, but any executors and heirs will not be bound. For example, one individual might be obligated to pay a set amount of money to another party every month, but that obligation would end when the individual dies.

An obligation is real when the person isn't liable for the performance, but a real estate property is responsible. For example, if a real estate property owes an easement to another, the property owes but the individual owner does not.

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