Statute of frauds

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The statute of frauds refers to the requirement that certain kinds of contracts be memorialized in a signed writing with sufficient content to evidence the contract.

Traditionally, the statute of frauds requires a signed writing in the following circumstances:

  • Contracts in consideration of marriage. This provision covers prenuptial agreements.
  • Contracts which cannot be performed within one year. However, contracts of indefinite duration do not fall under the statute of frauds regardless of how long the performance actually takes.
  • Contracts for the transfer of an interest in land. This applies not only to a contract to sell land but also to any other contract in which land or an interest in it is disposed, such as the grant of a mortgage or an easement.
  • Contracts by the executor of a will to pay a debt of the estate with his own money.
  • Contracts for the sale of goods involving a purchase price of $500 or more.
  • Contracts in which one party becomes a surety (acts as guarantor) for another party's debt or other obligation.

This can be remembered by the mnemonic "MY LEGS": Marriage, one year, land, executor, goods, surety; or Marriage, one year, land, executor, guarantor, sale.

Contents

Terminology

The term statute of frauds comes from an English Act of Parliament (29 Chas. 2 c. 3) passed in 1677 (authored by Sir Leoline Jenkins and passed by the Cavalier Parliament), and more properly called An Act for Prevention of Frauds and Perjuries.[1] Many common law jurisdictions have made similar statutory provisions, while a number of civil law jurisdictions have equivalent legislation incorporated into their civil codes. The original English statute itself may still be in effect in a number of US states or Canadian provinces, depending on the constitutional or reception statute of English law, and any subsequent legislative developments.

Raising the defense

A defendant in a statute of frauds case who wishes to use the Statute as a defense must raise the Statute in a timely manner. The burden of proving that a written contract exists only comes into play when a Statute of Frauds defense is raised by the defendant. A defendant who admits the existence of the contract in his pleadings, under oath in a deposition or affidavit, or at trial, may not use the defense.

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