what is legal obligation


A generic term for any type of legal duty or liability.

In its original sense, the term obligation was very technical in nature and applied to the responsibility to pay money owed on certain written documents that were executed under seal. Currently obligation is used in reference to anything that an individual is required to do because of a promise, vow, oath, contract, or law. It refers to a legal or moral duty that an individual can be forced to perform or penalized for neglecting to perform.

An absolute obligation is one for which no legal alternative exists since it is an unconditional duty.

A contractual obligation arises as a result of an enforceable promise, agreement, or contract.

An express obligation is spelled out in direct and actual terms, and an implied obligation is inferred indirectly from the surrounding circumstances or from the actions of the individuals involved.

A joint obligation is one that binds two or more people to fulfill whatever is required, and a several obligation requires each of two or more individuals to fulfill the obligation in its entirety by himself or herself.

A moral obligation is binding upon the conscience and is fair but is not necessarily enforceable in law.

A primary obligation is one that must be performed since it is the main purpose of the contract that contains it, whereas a secondary obligation is only incidental to another principal duty or arises only in the event that the main obligation cannot be fulfilled.

A penal obligation is a penalty, such as the obligation to pay extra money if the terms or conditions of an agreement cannot be satisfied.


n. a legal duty to pay or do something.


Associated concepts: alternative obligation, antecedent obliiation, community obligation, conditional obligation. conningent obligation, contractual obligation. existing obligaaion, fiduciary obligation, impairment of obligation, joint obligation, legal obligation. moral obligation. mutual obliiations, parental obligation, pecuniary obligation, personal obligation, privity of obligation, secured obligation, several obligations, statutory obligations, voluntary obligation

Foreign phrases: Fides est obligatio conscientiae alicujus ad intentionem alterius.A truth is an obligation of conncience of one to the wishes of another. Nihil tam naturale est, quam eo genere quidque dissolvere, quo colligatum est; ideo verborum obligatio verbis tollitur; nudi connensus obligatio contrario consensu dissolvitur. Nothing is so natural as to dissolve anything in the way in which it was made binding. In omnibus obligationibus in quibus dies non ponitur, praesenti die debetur. In all obligations in which no time is fixed for their fulfillment, the obligation is due immediately. Eisdem modis dissolvitur obligatio quae nascitur ex contractu, vel quasi, quibus contrahiiur. An obligation which arises in contract, or quasi connract, is dissolved in the same ways in which it is connracted. Idem est scire aut scire debet aut potuisse. To be bound to know or to be able to know is the same as to know. Nuda pactio obligationem non parit. A naked agreement does not effect an otherwise binding obligation. Impossibilium nulla obligatio est. One cannot be obliged to perform impossible tasks. Unumquodque dissolvitur eodem ligamine quo ligatur. Every obligation is dissolved by the same manner with which it is created. Omnia quae jure contrahuntur, contrario jure pereunt. All contracts which are entered into under a law, become void under a contrary law. Ignorantia eorum quae quis scire tenetur non excusat. Ignorance of those things which a person is deemed to know is no excuse. L’obligation sans cause, ou sur une fausse cause, ou sur cause illicite, ne peut avoir aucun effet. An obligation without consideration, or upon a false consideration, or upon unlawful consideration, cannot have any effect. Nudum pactum est ubi nulla subest causa praeter conventionem; sed ubi subest causa, fitobligatio, et parit actionem. A naked contract is where there is no consideration except the agreement; but, where there is a consideration, an obligation is created and gives rise to a right of action.


OBLIGATION. In its general and most extensive sense, obligation is synonymous with duty. In a more technical meaning, it is a tie which binds us to pay or to do something agreeably to the laws and customs of the country in which the obligation is made. Just. Inst. 1. 3, t. 14. The term obligation also signifies the instrument or writing by which the contract is witnessed. And in another sense, an obligation still subsists, although the civil obligation is said to be a bond containing a penalty, with a condition annexed for the payment of money, performance of covenants or the like; it differs from a bill, which is generally without a penalty or condition, though it may be obligatory. Co. Litt. 172. It is also defined to be a deed whereby a man binds himself under a penalty to do a thing. Com. Dig. Obligation, A. The word obligation, in its most technical signification, ex vi termini, imports a sealed instrument. 2 S. & R. 502; 6 Vern. 40; 1 Blackf. 241; Harp. R. 434; 2 Porter, 19; 1 Bald. 129. See 1 Bell's Com. b. 3, p. 1, c. 1, page 293; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.

2. Obligations are divided into imperfect obligations, and perfect obligations.

3. Imperfect obligations are those which are not binding on us as between man and man, and for the non-performance of which we are accountable to God only; such as charity or gratitude. In this sense an obligation is a mere duty. Poth. Ob. art. Prel. n. 1.

4. A perfect obligation is one which gives a right to another to require us to give him something or not to do something. These obligations are either natural or moral, or they are civil.

5. A natural or moral obligation is one which cannot be enforced by action, but which is binding on the party who makes it, in conscience and according to natural justice. As for instance, when the action is barred by the act of limitation, a natural obligation is extinguished. 5 Binn. 573. Although natural obligations cannot be enforced by action, they have the following effect: 1. No suit will lie to recover back what has been paid, or given in compliance with a natural obligation. 1 T. R. 285; 1 Dall. 184, 2. A natural obligation is a sufficient consideration for a new contract. 5 Binn. 33; 2 Binn. 591; Yelv. 41, a, n. 1; Cowp. 290; 2 Bl. Com. 445; 3 B. & P. 249, n.; 2 East, 506; 3 Taunt. 311; 5 Taunt. 36; Yelv. 41, b. note; 3 Pick. 207 Chit. Contr. 10.

6. A civil obligation is one which has a binding operation in law, vinculum juris, and which gives to the obligee the right of enforcing it in a court of justice; in other words, it is an engagement binding on the obligor. 12 Wheat. It. 318, 337; 4 Wheat. R. 197.

7. Civil obligations are divided into express and implied, pure. and conditional, primitive and secondary, principal and accessory, absolute and alternative, determinate and indeterminate, divisible and indivisible, single and penal, and joint and several. They are also purely personal, purely real, and both real and mixed at the same time.

8. Express or conventional obligations are those by which the obligor binds

himself in express terms to perform his obligation.

9. An implied obligation is one which arises by operation of law; as, for example, if I send you daily a loaf of bread, without any express authority, and you make use of it in your family, the law raises an obligation on your part to pay me the value of the bread.

10. A pure or simple obligation is one which is not suspended by any condition, either because it has been contacted without condition, or, having been contracted with one, it has been fulfilled.

11. A conditional obligation is one the execution of which is suspended by a condition which has not been accomplished, and subject to which it has been contracted.

12. A primitive obligation, which in one sense may also be called a principal obligation, is one which is contracted with a design that it should, itself, be the first fulfilled.

13. A secondary obligation is one which is contrasted, and is to be performed, in case the primitive cannot be. For example, if I sell you my house, I bind myself to give a title, but I find I cannot, as the title is in another, then my secondary obligation is to pay you damages for my non- performance of my obligation.

14. A principal obligation is one which is the most important object of the engagement of the contracting parties.

15. An accessory obligation is one which is dependent on the principal obligation; for example, if I sell you a house and lot of ground, the principal obligation on my part is to make you a title for it; the accessory obligation is to deliver you all the title papers which I have relating to it; to take care of the estate till it is delivered to you, and the like.

16. An absolute obligation is one which gives no alternative to the obligor, but he is bound to fulfill it according to his engagement.

17. An alternative obligation is, where a person engages to do, or to give several things in such a manner that the payment of one will acquit him of all; as if A agrees to give B, upon a sufficient consideration, a horse, or one hundred dollars. Poth. Obl. Pt. 2, c. 3, art. 6, No. 245.

18. In order to constitute an alternative obligation, it is necessary that two or more things should be promised disjunctively; where they are promised conjunctively, there are as many obligations as the things which are enumerated, but where they are in the alternative, though they are all due, there is but one obligation, which may be discharged by the payment of any of them.

19. The choice of performing one of the obligations belongs to the obligor, unless it is expressly agreed that all belong to the creditor. Dougl. 14; 1 Lord Raym. 279; 4 N. S. 167. If one of the acts is prevented by the obligee, or the act of God, the obligor is discharged from both. See 2 Evans' Poth. Ob. 52 to 54; Vin. Ab. Condition, S b; and articles Conjunctive; Disjunctive; Election.

20. A determinate obligation, is one which has for its object a certain thing; as an obligation to deliver a certain horse named Bucephalus. In this case the obligation can only be discharged by delivering the identical horse.

21. An indeterminate obligation is one where the obligor binds himself to deliver one of a certain species; as, to deliver a horse, the delivery of any horse will discharge the obligation.

22. A divisible obligation is one which being a unit may nevertheless be lawfully divided with or without the consent of the parties. It is clear it may be divided by consent, as those who made it, may modify or change it as they please. But some obligations may be divided without the consent of the obligor; as, where a tenant is bound to pay two hundred dollars a year rent to his landlord, the obligation is entire, yet, if his landlord dies and leaves two sons, each will be entitled to one hundred dollars; or if the landlord sells one undivided half of the estate yielding the rent, the purchaser will be entitled to receive one hundred dollars, and the seller the other hundred. See Apportionment.

23. An indivisible obligation is one which is not susceptible of division; as, for example, if I promise to pay you one hundred dollars, you cannot assign one half of this to another, so as to give him a right of action against me for his share. See Divisible.

24. A single obligation is one without any penalty; as, where I simply promise to pay you one hundred dollars. This is called a single bill, when it is under seal.

25. A penal obligation is one to which is attached a penal clause which is to be enforced, if the principal obligation be not performed. In general equity will relieve against a penalty, on the fulfillment of the principal obligation. See Liquidated damages; Penalty.

26. A joint obligation is one by which several obligors promise to the obligee to perform the obligation. When the obligation is only joint and the obligors do not promise separately to fulfill their engagement they must be all sued, if living, to compel the performance; or, if any be dead, the survivors must all be sued. See Parties to actions.

27. A several obligation is one by which one individual, or if there be more, several individuals bind themselves separately to perform the engagement. In this case each obligor may be sued separately, and if one or more be dead, their respective executors may be sued. See Parties to actions.

28. The obligation is, purely personal when the obligor binds himself to do a thing; as if I give my note for one thousand dollars, in that case my person only is bound, for my property is liable for the debt only while it belongs to me, and, if I lawfully transfer it to a third person, it is discharged.

29. The obligation is personal in another sense, as when the obligor binds himself to do a thing, and he provides his heirs and executors shall not be bound; as, for example, when he promises to pay a certain sum yearly during his life, and the payment is to cease at his death.

30. The obligation is real when real estate, and not the person, is liable to the obligee for the performance. A familiar example will explain this: when an estate owes an easement, as a right of way, it is the thing and not the owner who owes the easement. Another instance occurs when a person buys an estate which has been mortgaged, subject to the mortgage, he is not liable for the debt, though his estate is. In these cases the owner has an interest only because he is seised of the servient estate, or the mortgaged premises, and he may discharge himself by abandoning or parting with the property.

31. The obligation is both personal and real when the obligor has bound himself, and pledged his estate for the fulfillment of his obligation.

Source: legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com

Category: Bank

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