The "Mutual Agreement" Definition

By Chuck Ayers
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Betrothed by mutual consent

The concept of mutual agreement spans the spectrum of meanings and complexity. A mutual agreement can be as informal as you and your partner agreeing to go to the ice cream parlor for a cone. If you've been married, you have experienced firsthand what a mutual agreement is all about. Two parties enter the legally binding contract of marriage. If the marriage doesn't work, some states permit divorce by mutual consent, as well.

Mutual Agreement in Everyday Life

In its most common, non-legally binding sense, mutual agreement is as simple as you and a friend agreeing to play a game of cribbage or throw a Frisbee -- two people participating in an agreed-upon activity.

Legalities

The concept gets more complicated when it enters the legal arena, where particular conditions must be met to rise to the standard of mutual agreement. For example, a police officer pulls you over for speeding and you happen to be carrying an unlicensed firearm. The officer arrests you and advises you of your Miranda rights ("You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..."). And let's say the officer advises you not once, but six times, and after the sixth advisory you relent and waive your rights. Well, in the District of Columbia, a court ruled that repeated Miranda notifications are attempts by an officer to coerce a party into waiving his rights. Thus, this scenario would not be considered a mutual agreement.

Mutual Consent in Business

In business, you can stipulate just about any condition in a contract if all parties agree to the terms. In much the same way, the contract can be nullified by mutual consent. Buying or selling a house or any other property, real or intellectual, is another example. Both parties must agree on the price and other conditions for the property to be sold.

Beyond the Grave

Mutual agreement can extend to the grave in the form of mutual-consent wills. Mutual wills are usually made between spouses, who agree on the distribution of their assets. You can even give your spouse or another person the power to draw up the will. However, if the terms of the will are changed, the agreement is nullified, unless the parties agree that such changes are permitted.

Different Strokes in Different States

Not all states legally recognize mutual-agreement marriages, and those that do have different standards. Idaho, for example, has no mutual-agreement marriage law, though lobbyists are pressuring the state legislature to enact a law allowing it. One major reason is the divorce rate in Idaho is 50 percent higher than the national average. In most states, a mutual-consent marriage would require a mutual-consent divorce, which according to John Crouch of Americans for Divorce Reform, could cut the divorce rate by as much as 30 percent. For a mutual-consent divorce in Pennsylvania, you must have been separated for less than two years. And here is the odd part: You can still live together and be considered separated.

About the Author

Chuck Ayers began writing professionally in 1982, breathing life into obituaries, becoming a political and investigative reporter at a major East Coast metropolitan newspaper. He now freelances and is a California communications and political consultant. He graduated from American University, Washington, D.C., with degrees in political science and economics.