A signed agreement is a signature on a piece of paper and is a powerful legal piece between two parties.

Even if a document is valid with a signature, courts take into consideration not only the legality, but also the verifiability of the document.

When Is a Signed Agreement Legally Enforceable?

Make sure that the language used in the document adheres to federal or state law.

  • Any provision within the document that does not adhere to the law, statute, or either party's civil rights, will be unenforceable and invalid.
  • If you're not sure the agreement you have in your hands is enforceable, contact a lawyer for more information.

Make sure that both parties sign the agreement and that the document is acknowledged by two witnesses or a notary public for both parties who rely on the document to verify its credibility.

  • Some states don't require witnesses or a notary public, but if one of the parties claim a signature is forged, it will be hard to prove otherwise without a witness or notary.
  • Some documents do require a notary with certain state language for people like attorneys or title companies who rely on the documents.
  • Even though a document is technically legal with a witnessed signature, it's not the case if parties don't accept the document as true.

Make sure to record the buy and sell of a real estate agreement in the property records of the jurisdiction where the property is located.

  • This is important when payments are made for a period of time, and the deed will not change hands until the full payment is made.
  • For example, if a seller signs an agreement to sell you a parcel of land but the agreement remains unrecorded, he can deed the property to someone else. The purchaser on the deed will acquire the property, and your agreement is invalid when you want to purchase the land. 
  • You will most likely be unsuccessful purchasing this parcel of land because the agreement was unrecorded.

Difference Between Signed Agreement and Court Order

A written agreement signed by two or more parties is a binding agreement, but it's enforceable until it becomes a judgment of the court. The court creates a judgment by taking in the contents of the agreement into its judgment. This judgment replaces the original agreement and is enforced by the court if either party violates it.

Can a Signed Agreement Be Broken?

  • One reason for a legitimate breaking of a signed agreement is the other party's consent to the break. A solution to this circumstance would be to record the consent in writing and insist this be irrevocable. 
  • A second possibility is to break the agreement and accept the consequences. For instance, in the franchise setting, a franchisee breaks the contract with the franchisor and will pay the compensation under the law or contract.
  • A third legitimate possibility of breaking a signed agreement is if the person who wants to break the agreement can show the other party breached the contract in the first place. 
  • Another reason to break an agreement is if it's a gentleman's agreement or is non-binding. For instance, it can be an agreement to agree. 
  • An agreement can also be broken if the breach is not material and no consequences happen because of this.
  • External forces can force a breach of contract. Agreements commonly allow for both parties to avoid liability if the circumstances are beyond their control in cases known as force majeure.
  • Mistakes can also occur where the parties don't have to follow the contract. There are situations where certain mistakes can lead to the parties voiding contracts completely. If the signatory lacks the power of signature, that, in itself, can lead to the agreement being void.

It's important to be very detailed in the signed agreements of what is allowed and what is not, and not depend on the general law completely. If an agreement is illegal, it's not enforceable. If an agreement is too broad, the contract can also be voided without legal force. Since the uncertainty of each agreement is possible, it's not until you head to a court that you can understand whether an agreement is enforceable or not.

If you need help with a signed agreement, 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.