What Is an Assignment of Contract?

What happens when rights and duties under a contract are handed off to a third party?

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An assignment of contract occurs when one party to an existing contract (the "assignor") hands off the contract's obligations and benefits to another party (the "assignee"). Ideally, the assignor wants the assignee to step into his shoes and assume all of his contractual obligations and rights. In order to do that, the other party to the contract must be properly notified. Read on to learn how assignments work, including how to keep an assignment option out of your contract.

How Assignments Work

How an assignment of contract plays out depends on many factors, especially the language of the contract. Some contracts may contain a clause prohibiting assignment; other contracts may require the other party to consent to the assignment.

Here's an example of a basic assignment of a contract: Tom contracts with a dairy to deliver a bottle of half-and-half to Tom's house every day. The dairy assigns Tom's contract to another dairy, and--provided Tom is notified of the change and continues to get his daily half-and-half--his contract is now with the new dairy.

An assignment doesn't always relieve the assignor of liability. Some contracts may include a guarantee that, regardless of an assignment, the original parties (or one of them) guarantees performance (that is, that the assignee will fulfill the terms of the contract).

When Assignments Will Not Be Enforced

An assignment of a contract will not be enforced in the following situations.

The contract prohibits assignment. Contract language, typically referred to as an anti-assignment clause, can prohibit (and "void") any assignments. We provide a sample, below.

The assignment materially alters what's expected under the contract. If the assignment affects the performance due under the contract, decreases the value or return anticipated, or increases the risks for the other party to the contract (the party who is not assigning contractual rights), courts are unlikely to enforce the arrangement. For instance, if Tom's local, organic dairy assigned the contract to a factory farm dairy, this would be considered a material alteration.

The assignment violates the law or public policy. Some laws limit or prohibit assignments. For example, many states prohibit the assignment of future wages by an employee, and the federal government prohibits the assignment of certain claims against the government. Other assignments, though not prohibited by a statute, may violate public policy. For example, personal injury claims cannot be assigned because doing so may encourage litigation.

Delegation or Assignment?

In some cases, a party may not wish to assign the contract but only to get somebody else to fulfill its duties. Obviously, not all duties can be delegated--for example, some personal services are usually not delegated because they are so specific in nature. For example, if you hired Ted Nugent to perform at your event, he could not arbitrarily delegate his performing duties to Lady Gaga. To prohibit one party from delegating the responsibilities of the contract, the parties should include specific language to that effect in the agreement. For example, an anti-assignment clause might state, "Neither party shall assign or delegate its rights."

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by: , Attorney

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