The popular meaning of the term “obligation” is a duty to do or not to do something. In its legal sense, obligation is a civil law concept. An obligation can be created voluntarily, such as one arising from a contract, quasi-contract, or unilateral promise. An obligation can also be created involuntarily, such as an obligation arising from torts or a statute (e.g. California Uniform Interstate Family Support Act). An obligation binds together two or more determinate persons. Therefore, the legal meaning of an obligation does not only denote a duty, but also denotes a correlative right—one party has an obligation means another party has a correlative right. The person or entity who was liable for the obligation is called obligor; the person or entity who holds the correlative right to an obligation is called obligee.

 Some common uses of the term "obligation" in a legal sense include:

  • The term "contractual obligation" refers to the duty to pay or perform some certain acts created by a contract or an agreement
  • "Conditional obligation" means the duty to pay or perform certain acts depending on the happening of an event.
  • "Current obligation" means the obligation that is currently enforceable.
  • "Heritable obligation" means a legal obligation or the related right is not ended by the death of the person who was liable for the obligation or who held the right. The heritable obligation. The Louisiana Civil Code 1765 stipulates that an obligation is heritable when its performance may be enforced by a successor of the obligee or against a successor of the obligor.

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]