Unlocking Unilateral Contracts: A Guide to One-Sided Commitments


Unilateral contracts are unique agreements where an offeror commits to pay after a task’s completion by the offeree. The offeror bears the contractual obligation, unlike bilateral contracts involving both parties. Explore the features, types, elements, and distinctions of unilateral contracts in this informative guide.

Understanding unilateral contracts

A unilateral contract is a distinctive form of agreement, wherein an offeror extends a proposal to another party. In this type of contract, the offeree is required to perform a specific action or task as per the offeror’s request. Crucially, the offeree is not obligated to complete the task; payment will only be made if the offeree successfully fulfills the request.

Enforceability and contract breach

Unilateral contracts hold legal enforceability, but legal action is rarely pursued unless the offeree claims eligibility for the remuneration tied to the request. The enforceability of contract terms and the offeree’s eligibility for payment hinge on the clarity of contract provisions.

Types of unilateral contracts

Open requests

One common application of unilateral contracts is through open requests. In this scenario, offerors issue broad or optional requests, and payment is made exclusively upon the satisfaction of specific conditions. A typical example involves rewards offered for information leading to the conviction of criminals.


Unilateral contract characteristics can be found in insurance policies. Here, the insurer pledges payment if certain predefined events transpire within the terms of the policy. The offeree, in this case, pays a premium to maintain coverage and receives payment if the specified event occurs.

The 4 elements of a unilateral contract

When delving into the world of contracts, whether written or verbal, a unilateral contract stands as a unique legal arrangement. To bestow the power of legal binding, four crucial elements must be woven into its fabric.

Agreement: paving the path

Imagine a scenario where one party extends a hand, offering an opportunity. In the realm of unilateral contracts, this hand is an “offeror” and the path they lay before the other party, known as the “offeree,” signifies an “offer.” For the contract’s magic to take hold, both parties must voluntarily and willingly clasp their hands in acceptance, free from any kind of pressure or persuasion.

Consideration: the currency of commitment

Now, let’s explore the heart of any exchange—the consideration. It’s not always a pouch of coins; it’s the currency of commitment. In this dance of obligations, the consideration is what each party brings to the table, an offering that symbolizes their commitment to the agreement. It could be a promise, a good, a service, or even an act. This exchange of values seals the bond, breathing life into the contract’s existence.

Intention: the guiding light

A contract without intention is like a ship without a captain. Intention steers the course of the agreement. Both parties must have a genuine desire to form a contract and a shared understanding of what they’re getting into. It’s like agreeing on the destination before embarking on a journey—clarity and unity of purpose are the guiding stars.

Certainty: a roadmap for action

Think of certainty as the detailed map for your contract journey. It outlines every twist, turn, and checkpoint that must be traversed. In a unilateral contract, this map leads to a specific action or task that the offeree must complete to trigger the offeror’s commitment. Clarity is key; everyone should be on the same page about what needs to happen for the contract’s fulfillment.

Unilateral contracts vs. bilateral contracts

Contracts come in different shapes, like puzzle pieces fitting together. Unilateral and bilateral contracts, while siblings in the contract family, have distinct features.
In a unilateral contract, the spotlight is on the offeror. They’re the star of the show, making a promise that hinges on the offeree’s performance of a task. The offeree is like the hero who has a choice – they’re not bound to act, but if they do, the offeror’s promise springs to life.

Bilateral contracts, on the other hand, are a duet. Both parties stand on equal ground, exchanging promises. It’s a dance of mutual obligations; both must deliver on their pledges. In this symphony of commitment, harmony is achieved through balanced responsibilities.

Contract acceptance and rejection

Imagine a scenario where you receive an invitation, but your attendance isn’t mandatory. That’s the essence of a unilateral contract. The offeree isn’t locked into a decision; they have the freedom to accept or decline. It’s an open door, not a binding lock.
In the realm of bilateral contracts, the game changes. Here, both parties are onboard from the get-go. Acceptance is a key that fits a pre-designed lock, and rejection isn’t part of the plan. The symphony can only begin when both musicians are ready to play.

Termination and mistakes

Contracts, like any journey, can encounter detours or wrong turns. In a unilateral contract, the offeror holds the steering wheel. Before the offeree embarks on the task, the offeror can tap the brakes and halt the journey. It’s a prerogative, a chance to reconsider before the wheels are in motion.
Mistakes, though rare, can sneak into the contract terrain. In these cases, the toolbox offers solutions. Reforming the contract’s terms or pulling the emergency brake with complete cancellation—these are the tools that mend the path and keep the contract journey on track.

So there you have it—a voyage into the world of contracts, where terms are clear, intentions are bright, and actions have power. Whether a unilateral or bilateral dance, contracts shape relationships and set the stage for the intricate web of obligations that bind us together.


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Offers clear task-based remuneration
  • Enforceable by contract law
  • Flexible application in rewards and insurance
  • Offeree not obligated to complete the task
  • May lead to legal disputes over eligibility
  • Complexity in drafting terms and conditions

Frequently asked questions

What is a unilateral contract?

A unilateral contract is an agreement where the offeror commits to pay after the offeree completes a specific task, without any obligation on the offeree to perform.

What distinguishes unilateral contracts from bilateral contracts?

In unilateral contracts, only the offeror has an obligation, whereas bilateral contracts involve mutual obligations from both the offeror and the offeree.

Can a unilateral contract be terminated?

Yes, the offeror can withdraw the offer before the offeree initiates the task required by the contract.

What happens if a mistake occurs in a unilateral contract?

In case of a mistake, remedies include contract reform or complete cancellation, depending on the circumstances.

Key takeaways

  • Unilateral contracts involve a one-sided commitment from the offeror.
  • Offerees are not obligated to perform the requested task.
  • Common examples include rewards and insurance policies.
  • Four key elements include agreement, consideration, intention, and certainty.
  • Unilateral contracts differ from bilateral contracts in obligation.
View article sources
  1. unilateral contract – Cornell Law School
  2. Contracts: Basic Principles – Sam Houston State University
  3. The Formation of a Unilateral Contract – Yale Law Journal
  4. Handle contract modifications – U.S. General Services Administration
  5. Types of contract modifications – Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)
  6. How Does Separate Property Become Marital Property? – SuperMoney