Forcing someone to sign a contract can cause duress from the pressure and will render the contract invalid.

What is Duress?

Duress is a state of mind that can be caused by physical threats, threats on property, and the pressures of the economy. It doesn't matter where the pressure is coming from; if someone signed a contract while in this state of mind, the contract would be seen as invalid.

When Does Duress Occur in Contracts?

If a person feels they have been forced to enter an agreement, they can use duress as a defense. If you were held at gunpoint and forced to sign an agreement, this would be considered duress. This can make the contract invalid.

Another good example of duress is if someone kept a basic human need, like food or water, away from you if you didn't sign the agreement. Blackmail can cause duress as well. However, there are times where duress can't be clearly found.

By hiring an experienced lawyer, you can find out if you have entered an agreement under duress.

Forms of Duress in Contracts Law

In contract law, there are two different forms of duress:

  • Economic Duress. This occurs in commercial contract issues. One party may force another to enter a contract by using the pressures of the economy. However, if the threats involved something like legal action or a typical business deal, it may not be considered duress. The threat must also come from any party signing the original contract.
  • Physical Duress. This occurs when someone is threatened with physical harm, either directly or to their loved ones. If someone is forced to enter the agreement but doesn't plan on following the terms, it will be considered invalid.

Relevance of Consideration with Duress

Bargaining and exchanging of goods and services is called consideration. Without it, there can be no contract. Checking if there was proper consideration can help check for duress. If it occurred, only one party would get the benefit.

Consideration doesn't include a promise already mentioned in the contract. It may, however, exist if both parties can benefit from the contract. For example, B agrees to do A's chores for a week for $200. However, B wants $300 instead, so A agrees if B does A's laundry as well. This would make for a valid agreement with consideration.

How Can Duress be Proven?

Duress can be proven if the party shows there was an existing contract between the parties, one party threatened to end the contract, and the other party accepted the agreement due to duress. It can be difficult to see if duress applies to a situation.

Other factors the court may look into include:

  • Amount of time given to complete the contract terms.
  • Bargaining power each side had when contract was created.
  • Mental state of each party when contract was created.
  • If the parties believed the contract was fair when first created.
  • If the contract could have been modified with alternatives when first created.
  • If the parties could have solved the problem through other legal solutions.

Is the Contract Valid If You are Forced to Sign It?

A contract is not valid is someone forces you to sign it. There are many times where an agreement will be considered invalid due to duress. Some include threats towards your family or business, or if there are no alternatives offered to you about the agreement.

To prove the duress, the circumstances of the contract will be investigated, such as the parties' relationship. It's also possible that writing “under duress” could make the contract voidable. However, this may not hold up in court.

Is it Acceptable to Force Someone to Sign a Contract That is Good for Them?

No, it is not acceptable to do so. You can try to persuade or influence someone into signing a contract, but the decision must ultimately be theirs.

What to Do if You Enter into a Contract Under Duress?

You should read and be able to understand the contract before signing the document. If you feel forced to sign the document, you should seek help from a lawyer who is familiar with contract laws.

If you need help with signing a contract under duress, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.