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If a group of individuals were to have a meeting of the minds about what a "meeting of the minds" means, they may come up with several definitions. In legal terms, however, it is a distinct term for coming to agreement regarding the terms of a contract or settlement. Each party clearly understands what is taking place. All involved are on the same page, so to speak, and the goal is mutual agreement or mutual assent—a meeting of the minds is the transaction which adds to the binding nature of the agreement itself. While a meeting of the minds is an expression used for gatherings of like-minded people and often those who already share an interest and knowledge of a topic, in law, a level field of understanding must be established prior to agreeing.
A Latin phrase consensus ad item , meaning "agreement of the minds," is the element of contract law that closes the door to claims that a legal contract was not understood at the time of signing. In very concrete terms, a meeting of the minds establishes that there is no misunderstanding of what is included in the contract. It carries an offer from one party and acceptance by another without hidden or vague terms. After reaching agreement, a confirmation that there is a capacity of consent, or an ability to understand the terms, follows. The legality of the contract terms themselves undergoes review to complete the process.
Contract law generally involves drawing up documentation for the exchange of business and property assets or services. Employers use contracts for outlining employer obligations and terms. Sellers of products, from car parts to whole cars, define the items sold and state the price in black and white. Services provided by doctors, lawyers, and building contractors come with contracts requiring signatures before work begins. All of these types of contracts can establish a meeting of the minds with statements such as "I understand" or "I consent" before the required signature fields of the parties entering into the contracted services or before exchanging monies for the contracted goods.
While the content of legal contracts typically is more complicated than plain, everyday English, the terms of a clear contract are plainly laid out prior to reaching an agreement. While two parties may enter into talks with varying intentions, the intent coalesces, or reaches agreement, in the contract. Having clear intent, purpose, and end product recorded in writing eliminates the wiggle room, as a meeting of the minds brings everyone to the same page.
I think the only way to prove a meeting of the minds legally is through proper paperwork. The contract has to specify that both sides entered into this contract fully in agreement of its terms. Anything less than that and one side can always claim there never was a true meeting of the minds.
I've experienced a few incidents in my life where this sort of thing happened. I sold a used boat to a man who answered my ad in the paper, and I told him the engine had some serious problems. The asking price was based on "as is" condition. If he wanted to buy the boat, he would be responsible for making it operable. He came
back later and claimed I promised to repair the engine before turning it over to him. We settled the matter without going to court, but I made sure the bill of sale included the words "As Is" and had him sign it. He knew what the conditions were.
I hear this expression all the time on TV court shows. The judge will often dismiss a case because the two parties never had a meeting of the minds. One side would be suing to enforce the terms of a contract and the other side would argue there was no final agreement on the terms of that contract.
Once case I remember involved a man giving his neighbor what he called temporary custody of a dog. The neighbor claimed the man gave the dog away permanently. The man left the area for six months, then came back and asked for the dog back. The neighbor refused, saying the dog was a gift and it was now a part of the family. The judge dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit against the neighbor, say there never was a meeting of the minds over the terms of the adoption.
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