Are Verbal Contracts Legal?

verbal contracts

In the wedding industry, “handshake deals” have been historically common.

You need florals? I’ll do it!” “Catering for 100— we’ll be there"“

But are these verbal agreements legal?

The answer may surprise you…. because they are AND aren’t legal, depending on the subject matter.

When it’s Legal…

Verbal agreements can be legally binding as “verbal contracts", although it’s fairly difficult to prove them in court. That is, can the verbal contract be upheld in a court of law? A verbal contract is difficult for a court to decide because it turns into "he said/she said" situation, with no “proof” other than course of dealing or sparse emails back and forth, There is no way for either side to prove their version of the contract. Plus, there may have been a misunderstanding that led each side to operate under different terms to START with!

A signed, written contract, on the other hand, can stand on its own— and can prove it’s own facts. While there may be some bad writing leading to ambiguity incompleteness in a written contract, it's easier for a court to deal with things in black and white. For example, it’s simple for a court to read a document that says:

“Lindsey will provide Carter with 500 photographs for $3000.” and figure out whether the contract has been performed or not. BOOM. No 500 photographs? Contract is breached (not completed). No $3000? Contract is breached.

…. but know that some Contracts Must be in Writing to be Enforceable

There’s always a caveat, right? Well, there are some contracts that absolutely MUST be written to be “legal”— meaning writing it down is a requirement. The following are some standard “must be in writing” types of contracts, but different states may require additional categories to be in writing:

  • Contracts taking on the debt of another person or acting as a cosigner (“guarantor”)

  • Marriage contracts and prenups

  • Contracts for the sale of real estate or transferring rights to land

  • Contracts that must take more than one year to complete

That last bullet point is important, considering many wedding/ event vendor contracts are for performing a service that is over a year out. So writings are IMPORTANT in the wedding industry!

Again, different states require other things to be in writing (California, for example, has a LONGGG list) but this is the generally accepted “baseline” of what can’t be verbal.

Final thoughts

So yes, some verbal contracts are legal. But….. is it worth it? Isn’t it better to have something in writing than risking confusion, non-payment, and a back-and-forth where you both might be right?

TLDR: sure, verbal contracts are legal in some cases. But with so many resources at your fingertips, it’s really kinda dumb not to get something— anything— in writing.