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I'm not a law student, but I'm very interested in the topic and learning in general.

I got curious about contracts and signatures recently, so I wondered if there have been cases where contracts have been voided because of invalid signatures.

What constitutes a person's official signature, and what are the criteria (if any) for the validation of one's signature?

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Contracts

A contract is not a piece of paper; it is an agreement intended to be legally binding between 2 or more people and it may be verbal or written or a combination of both.

That said, where a person has signed a document knowing that it contains contractual terms, in the absence of fraud that person is bound by the terms: it is immaterial whether the person signing reads the document or not.

So there are two reasons why a signed contract would not be binding:

  1. the person did not know it contained contractual terms
  2. fraud.

It is in the second case that the validity of the signature would matter. Fraud would have to be proved: it would not be sufficient to say "I did not sign that"; the person would need to demonstrate that a fraud has been perpetrated.

Signatures

Particularly today, with the ability to scan a signature it is trivially easy to affix anyone's signature to anything.

However, a party to a contract is entitled to rely prima facie on the validity of the signature. A person would have to provide evidence that it was not their signature or had been affixed without their knowledge or consent.

A court would look at the entire circumstances surrounding such a claim; if a person had, up until the dispute, acted as though they had signed the document then a court would probably not countenance an argument that they hadn't.

It is always possible to construct contrived circumstances where this or that could happen but, in reality, they are extremely rare. Unless you are dealing with a con-artist, you can trust the signature; if you are dealing with a con-artist, you have bigger problems.

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  • "So there are two reasons why a signed contract would not be binding" . At the risk of nit-picking, there may be some more reasons, such as laws limiting what can be agreed upon, one of the parties not being a legal adult, or a requirement for a specific form, such as notarization. – sleske Sep 18 '17 at 8:41
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    "Fraud would have to be proved: it would not be sufficient to say "I did not sign that"; the person would need to demonstrate that a fraud has been perpetrated." Wait, what? Anyone could make up a contract very unfavorable to me, put some signature on it claiming to have been signed by me, I never ever met them, they take me to court, and it would be me who has to prove a fraud having been taken place? If it's so easy, how come it doeasn't happen so often to saturate the news? – vsz Dec 5 '17 at 12:57
  • @vsz it does - its called "identity theft" – Dale M Feb 7 '18 at 0:28
  • @vsz Completely agree. Why I have to prove that I did not sign it, if someone scanned my signature to JPG file, put it in the MS Word document which I do not know and try to get something from me? Why it is not another side have to prove, that I really sign it? What about "presumption of innocence" here? – Zlelik Oct 19 '18 at 9:33
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    @Zlelik: "presumption of innocence" is mostly a concept from criminal law, which is quite different from civil law / private law, which governs things like contracts (see for example How does “innocent until proven guilty” apply to non-payment?). So no, you don't have to prove that you did not sign it - rather, both you and your opponent would have to bring evidence that supports their point of view, and a judge weighs and decides. – sleske Oct 19 '18 at 10:13

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