Legal Definition and Related Resources of Obligation

Meaning of Obligation

The act of obliging or binding; that which obligates; the binding power of a vow, promise , oath or contract . The origin of the word can be traced to Latin word obligato, meaning tying up; also from the verb obligo, meaning to bind or tie up; to engage by the ties of a promise or oath or form of law and obligo is compounded of the verb lego, to tie or bind fast and the proposition ob which is prefixed to increase its meaning. See Edward v Kearzly, 96 U.S. 595, 24 L.Ed. 793, 6 otto 595.

Obligation Alternative Definition

(Lat. obligo; ligo, to bind). A legal bond, whereby constraint is laid upon a person or group of persons to act or forbear on behalf of another person or group. Savigny, Obi. §§ 2-4; Anson, Cont. §2. Secondarily applied to an instrument whereby one binds himself, under penalty, to an act or forbearance (2 Serg. & R. [Pa.] 502; 6 Vt. 40), and sometimes in modern usage to all written contracts (22 Ohio St. 111). Absolute Obligation. One which gives no alternative to the obligor, but requires fulfillment according to the engagement. Accessory Obligation. One which is dependent on the principal obligation. For example, if I sell you a house and lot of ground, the principal obligation on my part is to make you a title for it; the accessory obligation is to deliver you all the title papers which I have relating to it, to take care of the estate till it is delivered to you, and the like. Alternative Obligation. Where a person engages to do or to give several things in such a manner that the payment of one will acquit him of all. Civil Obligation. One which has a binding operation in law, and which gives to the obligee the right of enforcing it in a court of justice. In other words, it is an engagement binding on the obligor. 4 Wheat. (U. S.) 197; 12 Wheat. (U. S.) 318, 337. Civil obligations are divided into express and implied, pure and conditional, primitive and secondary, principal and accessory, absolute and alternative, determinate and indeterminate, divisible and Indivisible, single and penal, and joint and several. They are also purely personal, purely real, or mixed. Conditional Obligation. One, the execution of which is suspended by a condition which has not been accomplished, and subject to which it has been contracted. Determinate Obligation. One which has for its object a certain thing; as, an obligation to deliver a certain horse, named Bucephalus. In this case, the obligation can only be discharged by delivering the identical horse. Divisible Obligation. One which, being a unit, may nevertheless be lawfully divided with or without the consent of the parties. Express or Conventional Obligations. Those by which the obligor binds himself in express terms to perform his obligation. Imperfect Obligations. Those which are not binding on us as between man and man, and for the nonperformance of which we are accountable to God only, such as charity or gratitude. In this sense, an obligation is a mere duty. Poth. Obi. art. prel. note 1. Implied Obligation. One which arises by operation of law; as, for example, if I send you daily a loaf of bread, without any express authority, and you make use of it in your family, the law raises an obligation on your part to pay me the value of the bread. Indeterminate Obligation. One where the obligor binds himself to deliver one of a certain species ; as, to deliver a horse, where the delivery of any horse will discharge the obligation. Indivisible Obligation. One which is not susceptible of division; as, for example, if I promise to pay you one hundred dollars, you cannot assign one-half of this to another, so as to give him a right of action against me for his share. See Divisible. Joint Obligation. One by which several obligors promise to the obligee to perform the obligation. When the obligation is only joint, and the obligors do not promise separately to fulfill their engagement, they must be all sued, if living, to compel the performance; or, if any be dead, the survivors must all be sued. See Parties. Natural or Moral Obligation. One which cannot be enforced by action, but which is binding on the party who makes it in conscience and according to natural justice. As, for instance, when the action is barred by the act of limitation, a natural obligation still subsists, although the civil obligation is extinguished. 5 Bin. (Pa.) 573. Although natural obligations cannot be enforced by action, they have the following effect: First, no suit will lie to recover back what has been paid or given in compliance with a natural obligation (1 Term R. 285, 1 Dall. [Pa.] 184) ; second, a natural obligation is a suifficient consideraOBLIGATION tion for a new contract (2 Bin. [Pa.] 591; 5 Bin. [Pa.] 36; Yelv. 41a, note 1; Cowp. 290; 2 Bl. Comm. 445; 3 Bos. & P. 249, note; 2 East, 506; 3 Taunt. 311; 5 Taunt. 36; 3 Pick. [Mass.] 207; Chit. Cont. 10). See Consideration. Penal Obligation. One to which Is attached a penal clause, which is to be enforced if the principal obligation be not perfdrmed. See Damages. Perfect Obligation. One which gives a right to another to require us to give him something, or not to do something. These obligations are either natural or moral, or they are civil. Personal Obligation. One by which the obligor binds himself to perform an act, without directly binding his property for its performance. It also denotes an obligation in which the obligor binds himself only, not including his heirs or representatives. Primitive Obligation. This obligation, which, in one sense, may also be called a principal obligation, is one which is contracted with a design that it should itself be the first fulfilled. Principal Obligation. One which is the most important object of the engagement of the contracting parties. Pure (or Simple) Obligation. One which is not suspended by any condition, either because it has been contracted without condition, or, having been contracted with one, it has been fulfilled. Real Obligation. One by which real estate, and not the person, is liable to the obligee for the performance. A familiar example will explain this: When an estate owes an easement as a right of way, it is the thing, and not the owner, who owes the easement. Another instance occurs when a person buys an estate which has been mortgaged, subject to the mortgage. He is not liable for the debt, though his estate is. In these cases the owner has an interest only because he is seised of the servient estate or the mortgaged premises, and he may discharge himself ‘by abandoning or parting with the property. The obligation is both personal and real when the obligor has bound himself and pledged his estate for the fulfillment of his obligations. Secondary Obligation. One which is contracted and is to be performed in case the primitive cannot be. For example, if I sell you my house, I bind myself to give a title; but if I find I cannot, as the title is in another, then my secondary obligation is to pay you damages for my nonperformance of my obligation. Several Obligation. One by which one individual, or, if there be more, several individuals, bind themselves separately to perform the engagement. In this case, each obligor may be sued separately; and if one or more be dead, their respective executors may be sued. See Parties. Single Obligation, One without any penalty; as, where I simply promise to pay you one hundred dollars. This is called a single bill, when it is under seal.

Synonyms of Obligation

(Duty), noun

  • agreement
  • burden
  • charge
  • commitment
  • compulsion
  • contract
  • covenant
  • debt
  • duty owed
  • homini gratiam debere
  • legal responsibility
  • moral responsibility
  • necessity
  • oath
  • obligement
  • officium
  • pact
  • performance owed
  • promise
  • responsibility
  • social responsibility
  • that which a person owes to another
  • that which is due from a person
  • Associated Concepts: alternative obligation
  • antecedent obligation
  • community obligation
  • conditional obligation
  • contingent obligation
  • contractual obligation
  • existing obligation
  • fiduciary obligation
  • impairment of obligation
  • joint obligation
  • legal obligation
  • moral obligation
  • mutual obligations
  • parental obligation
  • pecuniary obligation
  • personal obligation
  • privity of obligation
  • secured obligation
  • several obligations
  • statutory obligations
  • voluntary obligation foreign phrases: Fides est obligatio conscientiae alicujus ad intentionem alterius
  • A truth is an obligation of conscience of one to the wishes of another
  • Nihil tam naturale est
  • quam eo genere quidque dissolvere
  • quo colligatum est; ideo verborum obligatio verbis tollitur; nudi consensus obligatio contrario consensu dissolvitur
  • Nothing is so natural as to dissolve anything in the way in which it was made binding
  • In omnibus obligationibus in quibus dies non ponitur
  • praesenti die debetur
  • ln all obligations in which no time is fixed for their fulfillment
  • the obligation is due immediately
  • Eisdemmodis dissolvitur obligatio quae nascitur ex contractu
  • velquasi
  • quibus contrahitur
  • An obligation which arises in contract
  • or quasi contract
  • is dissolved in the same ways in which it is contracted
  • Idem est scire aut scire debet autpotuisse
  • To be bound to know or to be able to know is the same as to know
  • Nudapactio obligationem nonparit
  • A naked agreement does not effect an otherwise binding obligation
  • Impossibilium nulla obligatio est
  • One cannot be obliged to perform impossible tasks
  • Unumquodque dissolvitur eodem ligamine quo ligatur
  • Every obligation is dissolved by the same manner with which it is created
  • Omnia quae jure contrahuntur
  • contrario jurepereunt
  • All contracts which are entered into under a law
  • Ignorantia eorum quae quis scire tenetur non excus

    Obligation in Law Enforcement

    Main Entry: Law Enforcement in the Legal Dictionary. This section provides, in the context of Law Enforcement, a partial definition of obligation.


    This term is a noun.

    Etimology of Obligation

    (You may find obligation at the world legal encyclopedia and the etimology of more terms).

    c. 1300, from Old French obligacion “obligation, duty, responsibility” (early 13c.) and directly from Latin obligationem (nominative obligatio) “an engaging or pledging,” literally “a binding” (but rarely used in this sense), noun of action from past participle stem of obligare (see oblige). The notion is of binding with promises or by law or duty.


    See Also

    • Law Enforcement Officer
    • Police
    • Law Enforcement Agency

    Further Reading



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