Documenting agreements and conversations

We make agreements and have important conversations all the time. Where are separated parents meeting to exchange the children? Where should a tenant pay his rent? Which neighbor is paying for the broken fence?

A common legal problem occurs when a person thinks they have an agreement with another, but later the second person does not honor the agreement. Did the two parties ever really agree? Did they have an agreement, but the second party is now dishonoring it? Is the first person not remembering the agreement correctly? These are questions that will have to be answered if the first person wants to enforce the agreement or otherwise rely on the conversation.

With written contracts these questions are usually pretty easy to answer because there is a record of the agreement. However, formal contracts take time to write and to get both signatures. It’s often not practical to turn an agreement into a formal writing. Thankfully, there is an informal way to produce a record and I generally call it documenting an agreement or conversation.

One way to document is to simply take notes during or right after the conversation. After the conversation, file the notes away someplace you’ll remember. If a dispute arises, you can refer to your notes to help you remember the conversation. If the matter is in court, you can support your testimony with your notes.

A step better, turn your notes into a letter to the other person. It might read something like this if you’re changing where you’re exchanging the children with an ex:

I’m writing to follow up on our conversation this morning about where we are exchanging the children. Thank you for understanding that it has become unworkable for me to continue getting the children to your house by 5:00.  As we agreed, I will have the children ready for you to pick up at my house by 5:00 p.m. when it is your parenting time starting this Friday.  Thank you again for your flexibility in this matter.

When the other person receives this letter they know 1) that you think you have an agreement with them and 2) the content of the agreement.  It then becomes their responsibility to correct you if you’re wrong about the agreement. If no correction comes, then the letter becomes written evidence of the agreement.

Documenting your agreements can save a lot of trouble, avoid misunderstandings, and protect your interests in litigation.