If you need to find out how to prove a contract was signed under duress, first you should understand how a contract works. A contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties in which both are supposed to fulfill its terms.

Both individuals and organizations or companies can enter into contracts; they are a crucial part of doing business. If one party does not fulfill the terms of the agreement, the other may sue that party for breach of contract. In such a case, the court can order a remedy such as payment of damages or simply requiring the other party to perform the actions they originally agreed upon.

However, there are conditions under which the contract may be considered unenforceable. For example, the contract cannot be upheld if one of the parties did not understand what they agreed to.

What is Duress?

If it's discovered that one party was not capable of understanding the contract due to lack of capacity for reasoning, a court can rule that the contract is not enforceable. This can happen when the party who signed the contract is too young or if they are mentally incapacitated due to disability or dementia. This stipulation prevents people who cannot fully understand the terms of a contract from being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous person.

There are other situations under which a contract may be said to have been signed under duress. If a person is forced to sign a contract at gunpoint, that would obviously be a case of signing under duress. However, any type of threat or other cause of stress that one party puts on another party may be considered duress; a physical weapon is not required.

Contracts can only be legally signed under a party's free will. Any type of coercion is considered duress if it allows one person to take advantage of another. Modification of a contract may also be done under duress.

The determination of duress is not whether or not the threat truly exists, but whether or not the person honestly believed that it did. However, a party can only claim duress if the other party in the contract was the one who caused the duress.

If you believe that you're a party in a contract that you signed under duress, it's vital that you get an attorney to help you. It's not always easy to prove that duress existed, so you need legal representation to get the contract invalidated and avoid being held accountable for breach of contract.

Other Examples of Duress

Besides the threat of physical or economic force, there are other situations that are considered duress and grounds for rendering a signed contract unenforceable. These include:

  • Misrepresentation, which means that the injured party was the victim of fraud during the negotiations process. In the interest of encouraging honesty in transactions, a contract that is based on false claims will likely be found to be unenforceable.
  • Nondisclosure, which is a form of misrepresentation. Instead of false claims, this indiscretion occurs when information is withheld. If someone had the responsibility to disclose information to the other party before the contract was signed, it may be considered duress. However, a court may rule against duress if the other party could have found out the information fairly easily on their own.
  • Unconscionability, which means that a part of the contract or agreement was so obviously unfair that it could not possibly be allowed to be enforced. This could result from large inequalities in power to negotiate, language or literacy problems causing trouble understanding the agreement, or the terms themselves being ridiculously unfair.
  • Public Policy, which means that the contract could present a problem to the community or society or that it breaks the law.
  • Mistakes, either by one party or both parties. If one or both parties made an error that has a serious impact on the agreement, it may be unenforceable.
  • Impossibility, meaning that the terms of the contract are simply impossible to carry out due to difficulty, expense, or impracticality. This can happen due to an unforeseeable event.

If you need more information or help discovering how to prove a contract was signed under duress, you can post your legal need 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, Stripe, and Twilio.