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It’s not uncommon to make backup plans that don’t go into effect unless certain conditions are met. That’s the core function of a contingent contract.

It leaves the doors to multiple options open to you and can help you maximize opportunities that favor you. With that being said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use them.

In this guide, you’ll learn what a contingent contract is, the different types, and how they can be used properly.

Understanding Contingent Contracts

Contingent contracts are agreements in which the performance or obligations of one or more parties are contingent upon the occurrence of a specified event or condition. These contracts typically involve uncertainty regarding the outcome, and the parties’ obligations may vary depending on whether the specified condition is met. Key characteristics of contingent contracts include:

  • Conditional nature: The obligations or performance under a contingent contract are contingent upon the occurrence of a specific event or condition. For example, if Company X generates $1,000,000 in revenue for Company A then Company A will give Company X a bonus of $50,000.
  • Uncertainty: There is uncertainty regarding the outcome of the contract, as it depends on the fulfillment of the specified condition.
  • Flexibility: Contingent contracts allow parties to structure their obligations based on varying outcomes, providing flexibility in managing risks and uncertainties.

Elements required for a contingent contract

Several elements are required for a contract to be considered contingent:

  • Specified condition: The contract must specify a particular event or condition upon which the parties’ obligations are contingent.
  • Contingent obligations: The parties’ obligations or performance must be contingent upon the occurrence or non-occurrence of the specified condition.
  • Uncertainty: There must be uncertainty regarding the fulfillment of the specified condition, as the outcome of the contract depends on it.
  • Legal enforceability: Contingent contracts must be legally enforceable, meaning that the terms and conditions are binding upon the parties and enforceable in a court of law.

Contingent contracts vs. other types of contracts

Contingent contracts can be differentiated from other types of contracts based on their key characteristics

  • Contingent contracts vs. unconditional contracts: Contingent contracts are conditional upon the occurrence of a specified event or condition, whereas unconditional contracts do not depend on any such conditions and are binding regardless of future events.
  • Contingent contracts vs. conditional contracts: While contingent contracts are conditional upon a specified event or condition, conditional contracts may contain conditions precedent or subsequent that affect the parties’ obligations but do not necessarily render the contract contingent on the outcome.
  • Contingent contracts vs. option contracts: Option contracts grant one party the right, but not the obligation, to take certain actions in the future, whereas contingent contracts involve obligations or performance that are contingent upon the occurrence of a specified event or condition.

Overall, contingent contracts provide flexibility in managing risks and uncertainties by structuring their obligations based on varying outcomes. However, they require careful drafting and consideration of the specified conditions to ensure clarity, enforceability, and alignment with the parties’ intentions.

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Types of Contingencies in Contracts

Contingencies in contracts can take various forms, addressing uncertainties related to performance and external events that may impact the contractual relationship.

Contingencies related to performance:

Conditions precedent are events or actions that must occur before a party becomes obligated to perform under the contract. These conditions establish prerequisites that must be met for the contract to become enforceable.

For instance, in a real estate transaction, the buyer’s obligation to purchase the property may be contingent upon securing financing or obtaining necessary regulatory approvals.

Until these conditions precedent are satisfied, the parties are not bound by the terms of the contract, and the contract may be terminated if the conditions are not met within the specified timeframe.

Conditions subsequent, on the other hand, are events that, if they occur, can terminate or modify the parties’ obligations under the contract. Unlike conditions precedent, which triggers the enforceability of the contract, conditions subsequent operate to extinguish or alter existing contractual obligations.

For example, a contract may include a condition subsequent stating that a party’s obligation to provide services is contingent upon the occurrence of a specified event, such as the failure to meet performance targets or the loss of a necessary license.

If the condition subsequent is met, the affected party’s obligations under the contract may be terminated or modified accordingly.

Contingencies related to external events:

Force majeure clauses excuse performance when unforeseeable events or circumstances beyond the parties’ control occur, making it impossible or impracticable to fulfill contractual obligations.

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These events may include natural disasters, wars, strikes, or government actions. Force majeure clauses typically specify the events that qualify as force majeure and outline the rights and obligations of the parties in such circumstances.

Depending on the language of the clause, force majeure events may result in temporary suspension of performance, extension of deadlines, or termination of the contract without liability for non-performance.

Material adverse change (MAC) clauses allow parties to terminate or modify the contract if significant adverse changes occur in certain conditions.

These changes may be the financial condition of one of the parties, changes in economic conditions, or adverse developments in the business environment.

These clauses are often included in merger and acquisition agreements to protect parties from unforeseen risks that may affect the viability or value of the transaction.

Material adverse change clauses typically specify the conditions under which the clause may be invoked, the consequences of invoking the clause, and any limitations or exceptions that apply.

Contingencies in contracts serve to allocate risks and uncertainties between parties, providing mechanisms to address potential obstacles to contract performance and protect against unforeseen events that may impact the contractual relationship.

Whether related to performance or external events, these contingencies help manage risks, clarify expectations, and maintain the integrity of the contractual arrangement.

Applications of Contingent Contracts

Real estate transactions:

In real estate transactions, contingent contracts often include provisions for property inspections. These contingencies allow the buyer to conduct inspections of the property to assess its condition and identify any issues that may affect its value or suitability for their intended use.

If the inspection reveals significant defects or issues, the buyer may have the option to negotiate repairs, credits, or even terminate the contract without penalty. Of course, this depends on the terms of the contingency.

Financing contingencies are common in real estate contracts, particularly for residential purchases. These contingencies make the buyer’s obligation to purchase the property contingent upon securing financing from a lender.

If the buyer is unable to obtain financing within the specified timeframe or on the agreed-upon terms, they may have the option to cancel the contract and receive a refund of their earnest money deposit.

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Mergers and acquisitions:

In mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions, contingent contracts often include provisions for due diligence.

These contingencies allow the acquirer to conduct a thorough investigation of the target company’s financial, legal, and operational affairs to identify any risks, liabilities, or other issues that may affect the transaction.

Depending on the results of due diligence, the acquirer may have the option to proceed with the transaction as planned, renegotiate the terms of the deal, or even terminate the contract.

Regulatory approval contingencies are another common feature of M&A contracts, particularly in transactions involving companies operating in regulated industries or where antitrust considerations may apply.

These contingencies make closing the transaction contingent upon obtaining necessary approvals from regulatory authorities, such as competition authorities or government agencies.

If regulatory approval is not obtained within the specified timeframe or on the agreed-upon terms, the parties may have the option to terminate the contract or seek alternative solutions.

Employment agreements:

Employment agreements may include contingencies based on performance metrics or targets that must be met for the agreement to become effective or for certain benefits to be realized.

For example, a sales executive’s employment contract may include performance-based incentives contingent upon achieving specified sales targets or revenue goals.

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If the employee fails to meet these performance metrics, they may not be entitled to certain bonuses, commissions, or other benefits outlined in the agreement.

Contingent contracts in employment agreements may also be based on future events or conditions that are uncertain at the time the contract is executed.

For instance, an executive’s employment contract may include a contingency clause stipulating that their continued employment is contingent upon the successful completion of a pending merger or acquisition.

If the transaction falls through or the executive’s role is materially altered as a result of the transaction, they may have the option to terminate the contract or renegotiate their terms of employment.

Contingent contracts find diverse applications across various industries and contexts, providing flexibility, risk mitigation, and protection against unforeseen events or contingencies that may affect the contractual relationship.

Whether in real estate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, or employment agreements, contingent contracts offer mechanisms to address uncertainties, clarify expectations, and safeguard parties’ interests.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Contingent Contracts

Like other legal instruments, there are advantages and disadvantages of contingent contracts. Below are some of the most common ones to be aware of.


  1. Flexibility in managing risks: One of the primary advantages of contingent contracts is the flexibility they offer in managing risks.

By including contingency clauses that address specific events or conditions, you can allocate risks more effectively and adapt to changing circumstances.

Contingent contracts allow you to structure obligations based on varying outcomes, providing a degree of flexibility that traditional contracts may lack.

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This flexibility enables you to negotiate terms that align with your risk tolerance and preferences, reducing the likelihood of disputes and facilitating smoother contract execution.

  • Protection against unforeseen events: By including provisions for contingencies such as force majeure events or material adverse changes, you can mitigate the risks associated with events beyond your control.

These contingencies serve as safeguards against disruptions, delays, or losses that may arise due to unexpected circumstances, providing parties with a measure of security and peace of mind.

Additionally, contingent contracts allow parties to anticipate potential obstacles and plan accordingly, reducing the likelihood of costly surprises and mitigating potential damages.


  1. Potential complexity and uncertainty: Contingency clauses can introduce additional layers of complexity to contract negotiations and drafting. You should carefully consider and define the specific events or conditions that trigger contingencies.

This complexity can lead to ambiguity, confusion, and disagreements regarding the interpretation and application of contingency clauses, particularly if the language is unclear or poorly drafted.

Additionally, the inherent uncertainty associated with contingent contracts may create challenges in predicting and managing future outcomes, potentially complicating contract performance and enforcement.

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  1. Delayed closure of agreements: Another disadvantage of contingent contracts is the potential for delayed closure of agreements. Contingency clauses may prolong the negotiation and execution process, as you must negotiate and finalize the terms of contingencies before the contract can be executed.

Additionally, contingencies may introduce additional steps or requirements that must be fulfilled before the contract can become enforceable, further delaying the closure of agreements.

These delays can impact transaction timelines, increase administrative burdens, and potentially disrupt business operations or strategic initiatives. As a result, parties may incur additional costs and resources associated with prolonged negotiations and delayed closures of contingent contracts.

Contingent contracts offer advantages such as flexibility in managing risks and protection against unforeseen events, but they also present disadvantages such as potential complexity, uncertainty, and delayed closure of agreements. It’s essential for parties to carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of contingent contracts and consider their specific circumstances and objectives when deciding whether to incorporate contingency clauses into their agreements.


Contingent contracts have the distinct advantage of being flexible and offer some protection against unforeseen circumstances.

With that being said, they’re more difficult to negotiate because additional consideration and negotiations must be carried out.

It’s ideal to use this kind of contract when there is a level of uncertainty about outcomes.

Start by determining whether or not a contingent contract is relevant to your situation and then start to work on the terms with the other party.

Keep the advantages and disadvantages in mind and you should be fine.

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