French law – Legal acts

A. Different types of legal acts

A juridical act is the manifestation of a will to create, modify or extinguish legal rights.

1. Classification according to the conditions of formation of the act

It is possible to distinguish between unilateral acts (the will of a single person) and bilateral acts (two persons) or plurilateral acts (several persons).

It is also possible to distinguish between consensual acts (where the simple exchange of consents is sufficient) and solemn acts (which require the fulfillment of a formal requirement, such as the drawing up of writing).

2. Classification according to the purpose of the act

The law distinguishes between:

conservatory acts, which make it possible to safeguard a property or right

—acts of administration, which consist in making a property grow without compromising its capital value

—and acts of disposition, which involve the transmission of a right or property.

It also distinguishes between acts for valuable consideration: each party must give or do something according to article 1105 of the civil code, and acts for free, which are disinterested acts.

A further distinction can be made: inter vivos deeds produce effects during the lifetime of the parties, whereas deeds on account of death have value only in consideration of a death.

B. Conditions for the validity of juridical acts

1. Substantive conditions

Article 1108 of the Civil Code establishes four conditions:

—the capacity to commit oneself: in order to establish a contract, one must not be declared incapable by law (thus minors have an incapacity to exercise)

—free and informed consent: “There is no valid consent if the consent has been given only by mistake or if it has been extorted by violence or surprised by fraud” according to article 1109 of the civil code.

—The object: a juridical act must have an object: this is the nature of the juridical operation (sale, lease, exchange, etc.) or what the parties commit themselves to. This object must be materially possible and lawful.
Article 1126 of the Civil Code establishes that the object may be the thing that a party undertakes to give or the service that he undertakes to do or not to do.

—The cause: a juridical act must indicate the cause, that is, the immediate purpose of the act, and the motives of the parties.

2. The conditions of form

Legal acts are not subject to a rule of form, except for solemn contracts which require a certain respect of forms.

3. Sanctions of the conditions of formation

A juridical act that does not respect the conditions of formation is declared null.

Relative nullities concern the violation of rules protecting private interests, while absolute nullities concern the violation of rules protecting the general interest.

C. The effects of legal acts

1. The effects of the act between the parties

“Legally formed agreements take the place of law for those who have made them” according to article 1134 of the civil code.

The contract can then be revoked only by a common agreement of the parties.

2. The effects of the act vis-à-vis third parties

Article 1165 of the Civil Code provides that agreements and contracts have an effect only between the contracting parties.

There are exceptions, in particular contracts which involve a third party, such as a stipulation for a third party whereby a person must give or do something for the benefit of a third party.

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