Is it illegal (or criminal) to break a contract? For example when you agree to a websites Terms of Service, if you violate a term, are you breaking the law?

  • 1
    This is addressed in the IXL FAQ: law.stackexchange.com/tags/ixl/info. The distinction between "legal" and "criminal" is behind this – it is not a crime to violate a contract.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 0:25
  • @user6726 you do not make sense. Is what you're trying to say is my question needs more context?
    – coolname1
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 2:33
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    I'm saying that if you're asking whether violating a contract is a crime (one sense of "illegal"), then I tell you that it's not a crime; and if you mean the other sense of "illegal", then it's self-evident that breaking a contract is illegal.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 3:19

1 Answer 1


It is illegal to break a contract. It is generally not a crime to break a contract.

Most legal systems make a distinction between illegal acts that are civil wrongs and illegal acts that are criminal wrongs. Civil wrongs may be committed against a person or the state and are subject to remedy. Criminal wrongs are committed against the state and are subject to punishment.

  • Must the party seeking a remedy show damages? In other words, if a party broke a contract but it didn't do anything (for example signing up for multiple Facebook accounts is in violation of the Terms of Service) would they be able to sue even though their were no damages?
    – coolname1
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:39
  • @coolname1 there need to be damages to sue for damages but there are other remedies, not least of which is barring you from their service
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:17
  • @coolname1 The answer varies in different jurisdictions. The majority view is that a breach of contract is actionable even if there are no economic damages proven in which case you are entitled to an award of nominal damages of $1. The minority view is that showing some economic damages is an element of a claim for breach of contract and that a failure to prove this element means that the party claiming breach of contract loses. Of course, as DaleM notes, often there are non-economic as well as money damages remedies that are available for a breach of contract.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 23:07

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