Part of my job as a lawyer is writing and reviewing contract. I love writing contracts – you put in creative and crazy clauses as long as they’re legal. I get many clients who draft their own agreements or get a contract from a peer or template website (shudder) and ask me to review it.
Most clients do an adequate job getting the basics terms into the document – offer, acceptance, and consideration – but where they falter is boilerplate legalese that every contract should have. (I swear we don’t put this stuff in there just to make it look fancy. It serves valuable purposes.) One of the most important provisions people who draft their own contracts forget is severability.
A severability clause saves a contract in the event that one of the provisions is invalid or illegal. It lets the party (or the court) cut out the invalid provision and allow the remaining terms stand as the contract. Here’s a simple severability clause I’ve used in other contracts:
If any provision of this Agreement is held invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such invalidity shall not affect the enforceability of any other provisions contained in this Agreement, and the remaining portions of this Agreement shall continue in full force and effect. If a provision is found to be invalid, the Parties hereby request that the intention of the invalid provision be upheld wherever possible.
So what happens if your contract doesn’t have a severability clause?
If all the terms of your agreement are legal and valid, nothing. You don’t need a severability clause to save it.
If you don’t have a severability clause and you have a term in the agreement that’s invalid, it could invalidate the entire contract. (Yeah, that’s bad.)
So if you’re in a situation where you have written contract with someone, and you think they’ve violated it, you could sue them for breach of contract (assuming the contract allows for this). If the alleged breacher shows the court that there’s an invalid provision in the contract and no severability clause, the court could declare that the entire contract invalid. If that happens, there’s no written contract between you, which means there might not be a legally-binding agreement. If that’s the case, there can’t be a breach – and you just lost your case.
Severability clauses are short provisions that can have a big impact in a contract dispute. It’s one of the provisions I include whenever I draft a contract and one of the first provisions I look for when reviewing an agreement for a client, especially if there’s a suspected breach.
I always caution people who look to friends, colleagues, or the internet for free contract templates or who draft their own documents. At the very least have a lawyer review your agreement before you start using a document to make sure it addresses your needs and protects your interests.
If you need help with a contract or are looking for more information about contracts, you can contact me directly or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.