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Signing a contract under duress: Were you forced to sign a contract?

by Abari Abbassi / Feb 6, 2024
Signing a contract under duress: Were you forced to sign a contract?

Being forced to sign a contract is a stressful and unfair situation. This article aims to shed light on the concept of duress, highlighting its forms, its impact on contract enforceability, and steps you can take if you find yourself in such a predicament.

Understanding duress

Duress refers to signing a contract due to unlawful threats, coercion, or undue influence that impairs your ability to make a free and informed decision. This pressure can take various forms:

  • Physical duress: Threats of violence or harm to you or your loved ones.
  • Economic duress: Exploiting financial vulnerabilities or emergencies to pressure you into signing.
  • Emotional manipulations: Using emotional tactics like fear, guilt, or isolation to coerce agreement.

The key element lies in proving the pressure was improper and severe enough to overcome your ability to make a free choice.

Enforceability of contracts signed under duress

While contracts signed under duress are generally considered voidable (meaning you can challenge their enforceability), proving it requires evidence and legal know-how. The burden rests on you to demonstrate the duress was severe enough to overcome your free will. This is where an experienced attorney becomes invaluable, navigating the complexities and assessing the strength of your case.

Duress can occur in various situations, including:

  • Employment contracts: Signing agreements under threat of job loss. For example, an employee forced to sign a non-compete clause under threat of immediate termination.
  • Domestic agreements: Prenuptial agreements pressured by emotional manipulation. For example, a spouse pressured into signing a one-sided prenuptial agreement due to emotional manipulation.
  • Business contracts: Unfair leverage or threats used to force unfavorable terms. For example, a small business owner coerced into an unfavorable contract with a larger company due to unfair leverage.

Steps to escape a contract signed under duress

If you believe you signed a contract under duress, here are some crucial steps.

1. Seek legal guidance immediately

Don't delay. Prompt action increases your chances of success. A qualified attorney can guide you through your options, assess the evidence, and build a strong case.

2. Review the contract

Scrutinize the contract for potential breaches or clauses that can be used to invalidate it.

3. Document all evidence thoroughly

Every detail helps build your case. Collect documentation (threats, emails), witness statements, and expert opinions (e.g., psychologists) to support your claim.

4. Communicate with the other party

Consider attempting an amicable resolution or renegotiation, but document the process.

5. Pursue legal remedies

If necessary, file a lawsuit to have the contract declared unenforceable.

Proving duress

Building a strong case requires:

  • Demonstrating improper pressure: Provide specific evidence of threats, coercion, or undue influence, with evidence.
  • Documenting psychological impact: If applicable, obtain professional opinions highlighting the duress's effect on your decision-making.
  • Emphasizing the lack of voluntary consent: Emphasize factors that hindered your ability to make a free choice.

Each situation is unique. Consult with legal professionals for tailored advice specific to your case. Recognizing and escaping unlawful pressure requires awareness and action. This article aims to empower you to make informed decisions and seek help if needed.

Written by Abari Abbassi

Founder of Signer HQ


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