Classification of Contract, Discharge of a Contract

25/02/2024 1 By indiafreenotes

Contracts are fundamental to the functioning of the modern economy, facilitating exchanges between individuals, businesses, and organizations. In India, as in many jurisdictions, contracts are governed by principles laid out in the Indian Contract Act, 1872. This comprehensive piece of legislation not only defines what constitutes a legally enforceable agreement but also categorizes contracts based on various criteria. Understanding these classifications is crucial for grasping the legal implications of agreements and navigating the complexities of business law.

Valid, Void, Voidable, and Unenforceable Contracts

  • Valid Contracts:

These are agreements that meet all the essential requirements outlined in the Contract Act, such as free consent, a lawful object, consideration, and competent parties. Valid contracts are enforceable by law.

  • Void Contracts:

A contract becomes void when it ceases to be enforceable by law, essentially losing its legal binding power. This can occur if the agreement involves an illegal act or if the terms are not capable of being performed.

  • Voidable Contracts:

These contracts contain all the elements of a valid contract but allow one or more parties the option to rescind their obligation. This option arises from circumstances such as undue influence, misrepresentation, or fraud at the time of contract formation.

  • Unenforceable Contracts:

These are contracts that may have been valid at one point but have become impossible to enforce due to certain technical defects, such as the absence of a written form when required by law.

Express and Implied Contracts

  • Express Contracts:

These agreements are articulated clearly in words, either orally or in writing, detailing the obligations and rights of the parties involved.

  • Implied Contracts:

Implied contracts are not stated in words but are inferred from the actions, conduct, or circumstances of the parties. These can be further divided into contracts implied in fact (based on the circumstances or conduct of the parties) and contracts implied in law (recognized by courts to prevent unjust enrichment).

Executed and Executory Contracts

  • Executed Contracts:

An executed contract is one in which both parties have fulfilled their respective obligations. These contracts represent completed transactions.

  • Executory Contracts:

In an executory contract, one or both parties have obligations that are yet to be performed. These are ongoing agreements where performance is due in the future.

Bilateral and Unilateral Contracts

  • Bilateral Contracts:

These involve two parties where each party has made a promise to the other. In these contracts, the promise of one party is the consideration for the promise of the other.

  • Unilateral Contracts:

In a unilateral contract, only one party makes a promise or undertakes an obligation to perform in exchange for an act by the other party. The contract becomes binding only when the party acting on the promise completes the requested act or performance.

Contingent Contracts

Contingent contracts are agreements where the performance of the contract depends on the occurrence or non-occurrence of a future, uncertain event. These contracts are conditional, and the obligations are triggered by the specified event’s happening.


While not contracts in the traditional sense because they lack the parties’ agreement, quasi-contracts are treated as contractual obligations by the law to prevent unjust enrichment. These are obligations that the law creates in the absence of an agreement when one party acquires something at the expense of another under circumstances that demand restitution.

Standard Form Contracts

Standard form contracts are pre-prepared contracts where one party sets the terms of the agreement, and the other party has little or no ability to negotiate more favorable terms. These are common in industries where uniformity and efficiency in transactions are necessary.

Discharge of a Contract

The discharge of a contract refers to the termination of contractual obligations between the parties involved. In India, the Indian Contract Act, 1872, governs the mechanisms through which a contract can be discharged, releasing the parties from their commitments. Understanding these mechanisms is crucial for parties engaged in contractual relationships, as it informs them of their rights, obligations, and the potential for relieving themselves from the contract under various circumstances.

  1. Discharge by Performance

The most straightforward method of discharging a contract is by performing the obligations it stipulates. When both parties fulfill their respective duties as agreed upon in the contract, the contract is considered discharged by performance. This discharge signifies the successful completion of the contract, with no further obligations remaining on either side.

  1. Discharge by Mutual Agreement

Contracts can also be discharged through mutual agreement or consent. This can occur in several ways:

  • Novation:

Replacing an old contract with a new one, either by changing the parties involved or the terms of the contract.

  • Rescission:

The parties agree to cancel the contract, relieving all parties of their obligations.

  • Alteration:

The terms of the contract are altered by mutual consent, which can discharge the original contract and give rise to a new one.

  • Remission:

One party agrees to accept a lesser fulfillment of the other party’s obligation than what was stipulated in the contract.

  1. Discharge by Impossibility of Performance

A contract can be discharged if its performance becomes objectively impossible or unlawful after it has been entered into. This concept, known as the doctrine of frustration under Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act, encompasses situations where:

  • The performance is made impossible by an act of God (natural calamities, unforeseen disasters).
  • The subject matter of the contract is destroyed.
  • The performance becomes illegal due to a change in law.
  • The purpose of the contract becomes futile due to circumstances beyond the control of the parties.
  1. Discharge by Lapse of Time

Under the Limitation Act, contracts must be performed within a specified period from the time the contract is constituted. If the contract is not performed within this period, and no legal action is taken by the aggrieved party, the contract is discharged due to the lapse of time, and the rights and obligations under the contract become unenforceable.

  1. Discharge by Operation of Law

A contract can be discharged by operation of law through:

  • Death:

In contracts that require personal performance, the contract may be discharged if one of the parties dies.

  • Insolvency:

If a party is declared insolvent, they are discharged from performing the contract as their assets are vested in the official assignee or receiver.

  • Merger:

When an inferior right accruing to a party in a contract merges into a superior right, ensuring the same performance.

  1. Discharge by Breach of Contract

A breach of contract occurs when a party fails to perform their obligations under the contract. This can lead to discharge in two ways:

  • Actual Breach:

When a party fails to perform their obligations at the time when performance is due.

  • Anticipatory Breach:

When a party declares their intention not to perform their obligations before the performance is due.

The non-breaching party is discharged from their obligations and may seek remedies for the breach, such as damages, specific performance, or rescission.