What is Obligation?

Legal Definition
An obligation is a course of action that someone is required to take, whether legal or moral. There are also obligations in other normative contexts, such as obligations of etiquette, social obligations, and possibly in terms of politics, where obligations are requirements which must be fulfilled. These are generally legal obligations, which can incur a penalty for non-fulfilment, although certain people are obliged to carry out certain actions for other reasons as well, whether as a tradition or for social reasons.

Obligations vary from person to person: for example, a person holding a political office will generally have far more obligations than an average adult citizen, who themselves will have more obligations than a child. Obligations are generally granted in return for an increase in an individual's rights or power. For example, obligations for health and safety in a workplace from employer to employee maybe to ensure the fire exit is not blocked or ensure that the plugs are put in firmly.

The word "obligation" can also designate a written obligation, or such things as bank notes, coins, checks, bonds, stamps, or securities.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
In its general and most extensive sense, obligation is synony- mous with duty. In a more technical meaning, it is a tie which binds us to pay or to do something agreeably to the laws and customs of the country in which the obligation is made. Just. Inst. 1. 3, t. 14. The term obligation also signifies the instrument or writing by which the contract is witnessed. And in another sense, an obligation still subsists, although the civil obligation is said to be a bond containing a penalty, with a condition annexed for the payment of money, performance of covenants or the like; it differs from a bill, which is generally without a penalty or condition, though it may be obligatory. Co. Litt. 172. It is also defined to be a deed whereby a man binds himself under a penalty to do a thing. Com. Dig. Obligation, A. The word obligation, in its most technical signification, ex vi termini, imports a sealed instrument. 2 S. & R. 502; 6 Verm. 40; 1 Blackf. 241; Harp. R. 434; 2 Porter, 19; 1 Bald. 129. See 1 Bell's Com. b. 3, p. 1, c. 1, page 293; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.

2. Obligations are divided into imperfect obligations, and perfect obligations.

3. Imperfect obligations are those which are not binding on us as between man and man, and for the non-performance of which we are accountable to God only; such as charity or gratitude. In this sense an obligation is a mere duty. Poth. Ob. art. Prel. n. 1.

4. A perfect obligation is one which gives a right to another to require us to give him something or not to do something. These obligations are either natural or moral, or they are civil.

5. A natural or moral obligation is one which cannot be enforced by action, but which is binding on the party who makes it, in conscience and according to natural justice. As for instance, when the action is barred by the act of limitation, a natural obligation is extinguished. 5 Binn. 573. Although natural obligations cannot be enforeed by action, they have the following effect: 1. No suit will lie to recover back what has been paid, or given in compliance with a natural obligation. 1 T. R. 285; 1 Dall. 184, 2. A natural obligation is a sufficient consideration for a new contract. 5 Binn. 33; 2 Binn. 591; Yelv. 41, a, n. 1; Cowp. 290; 2 Bl. Com. 445; 3 B. & P. 249, n.; 2 East, 506; 3 Taunt. 311; 5 Taunt. 36; Yelv. 41, b. note; 3 Pick. 207 Chit. Contr. 10.

6. A civil obligation is one which has a binding operation in law, vinculum juris, and which gives to the obligee the right of enforcing it in a court of justice; in other words, it is an engagement binding on the obligor. 12 Wheat. It:. 318, 337; 4 Wheat. R. 197.

7. Civil obligations are divided into express and implied, pure. and conditional, primitive and secondary, principal and accessory, absolute and alternative, determinate and indeterminate, divisible and indivisible, single and penal, and joint and several. They are also purely personal, purely real, and both real and mixed at the same time.

8. Express or conventional obligations are those by which the obligor binds himself in express terms to perform his obligation.

9. An implied obligation is one which arises by operation of law; as, for example, if I send you daily a loaf of bread, without any express authority, and you make use of it in your family, the law raises an obligation on your part to pay me the value of the bread.

10. A pure or simple obligation is one which is not suspended by any condition, either because it has been contacted without condition, or, having been contracted with one, it has been fulfilled.

11. A conditional obligation is one the execution of which is suspended by a condition which has not been accomplished, and subject to which it has been contracted.

12. A primitive obligation, which in one sense may also be called a principal obligation, is one which is contracted with a design that it should, itself, be the first fulfilled.

13. A secondary obligation is one which is contrasted, and is to be performed, in case the primitive cannot be. For example, if I sell you my house, I bind myself to give a title, but I find I cannot, as the title is in another, then my secondary obligation is to pay you damages for my non-perform- ance of my obligation.

14. A principal obligation is one which is the most important object of the engagement of the contracting parties.

15. An accessory obligation is one which is dependent on the principal obligation; for example, if I sell you a house and lot of ground, the principal obligation on my part is to make you a title for it; the accessory obligation is to deliver you all the title papers which I have relating to it; to take care of the estate till it is delivered to you, and the like.

16. An absolute obligation is one which gives no alternative to the obligor, but he is bound to fulfil it according to his engagement.

17. An alternative obligation is, where a person engages to do, or to give several things in such a manner that the payment of one will acquit him of all; as if A agrees to give B, upon a sufficient consideration, a horse, or one hundred dollars. Poth. Obl. Pt. 2, c. 3, art. 6, No.. 245.

18. In order to constitute an alternative obligation, it is necessary that two or more things should be promised disjunctively; where they are promised conjunctively, there are as many obligations as the things which are enumerated, but where they are in the alternative, though they are all due, there is but one obligation, which may be discharged by the payment of any of them.

19. The choice of performing one of the obligations belongs to the obligor, unless it is expressly agreed that all belong to the creditor. Dougl. 14; 1 Lord Raym. 279; 4 N. S. 167. If one of the acts is prevented by the obligee, or the act of God, the obligor is discharged from both. See 2 Evans' Poth. Ob. 52 to 54; Vin. Ab. Condition, S b; and articles Conjunctive; Disjunctive; Election.

20. A determinate obligation, is one which has for its object a certain thing; as an obligation to deliver a certain horse named Bucephalus. In this case the obligation can only be discharged by delivering the identical horse.

21. An indeterminate obligation is one where the obligor binds himself to deliver one of a certain species; as, to deliver a horse, the delivery of any horse will discharge the obligation.

22. A divisible obligation is one which being a unit may nevertheless be lawfully divided with or without the consent of the parties. It is clear it may be divided by consent, as those who made it, may modify or change it as they please. But some obligations may be divided without the consent of the obligor; as, where a tenant is bound to pay two hundred dollars a year rent to his landlord, the obligation is entire, yet, if his landlord dies and leaves two sons, each will be entitled to one hundred dollars; or if the landlord sells one undivided half of the estate yielding the rent, the purchaser will be entitled to receive one hundred dollars, and the seller the other hundred. See Apportionment.

23. An indivisible obligation is one which is not susceptible of division; as, for example, if I promise to pay you one hundred dollars, you cannot assign one half of this to another, so as to give him a right of action against me for his share. See Divisible.

24. A single obligation is one without any penalty; as, where I simply promise to pay you one hundred dollars. This is called a single bill, when it is under seal.

25. A penal obligation is one to which is attached a penal clause which is to be enforeed, if the principal obligation be not performed. In general equity will relieve against a penalty, on the fulfilment of the principal obligation. See Liquidated damages; Penalty.

26. A joint obligation is one by which several obligors promise to the obligee to perform the obligation. When the obligation is only joint and the obligors do not promise separately to fulfil their engagement they must be all sued, if living, to compel the performance; or, if any be dead, the survivors must all be sued. See Parties to actions.

27. A several obligation is one by which one individual, or if there be more, several individuals bind themselves separately to perform the engagement. In this case each obligor may be sued separately, and if one or more be dead, their respective executors may be sued. See Parties to actions.

28. The obligation is, purely personal when the obligor binds himself to do a thing; as if I give my note for one thousand dollars, in that case my person only is bound, for my property is liable for the debt only while it belongs to me, and, if I lawfully transfer it to a third person, it is discharged.

29. The obligation is personal in another sense, as when the obligor binds himself to do a thing, and he provides his heirs and executors shall not be bound; as, for example, when he promises to pay a certain sum yearly during his life, and the payment is to cease at his death.

30. The obligation is real when real estate, and not the person, is liable to the obligee for the performance. A familiar example will explain this: when an estate owes an easement, as a right of way, it is the thing and not the owner who owes the easement. Another instance occurs when a person buys an estate which has been mortgaged, subject to the mortgage, he is not liable for the debt, though his estate is. In these cases the owner has an interest only because he is seised of the servient estate, or the mortgaged premises, and he may discharge himself by abandoning or parting with the property.

31. The obligation is both personal and real when the obligor has bound himself, and pledged his estate for the fulfilment of his obligation.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
An obligation is a legal duty, by which a person is bound to do or not to do a certain thing. Civ. Co.de Cal. § 1427; Civ. Co.de Dak. § 798. The binding power of a vow, promise, oath, or contract, or of law, civil, political, or moral, independent of a promise; that which constitutes legal or moral duty, and which renders a person liable to coercion and punishment for neglecting it. Webster. "Obligation" is the correlative of "right." Taking the latter word in its politico-ethical sense, as a power of free action lodged in a person, "obligation" is the corresponding duty, constraint, or binding force which should prevent all other persons from denying, abridging, or obstructing such right, or interfering with its exercise. And the same is its meaning as the correlative of a "jus in rem." Taking "right" as meaning a "jus in personam," (a power, demand, claim, or privilege inherent in one person, and incident upon another,) the "obligation" is the coercive force or control imposed upon the person of incidence by the moral law and the positive law, (or the moral law as recognized and sanctioned by the positive law,) constraining him to accede to the demand, render up the thing claimed, pay the money due, or otherwise perform what is expected of him with respect to the subject-matter of the right In a limited and arbitrary sense, it means a penal bond or "writing obligatory," that ls, a bond containing a penalty, with a condition annexed for the payment of money or performance of covenants. Co.. Litt. 172. Obligation is

(1) legal or moral duty, as opposed to physical compulsion;

(2) a duty incumbent upon an individual, or a specific and limited number of individuals, as opposed to a duty imposed upon the world at large ;

(3) the right to enforce such a duty, (jus in personam,) as opposed to such a right as that of property, (jus mi rem,) which avails against the world at large;

(4) a bond containing a penalty, with a condition annexed, for the payment of money, performance of covenants, or the like. Mozley & Whitley. In English expositions of the Roman law, and works upon general jurisprudence, "obligation" is used to translate the Latin "obligatio." In this sense its meaning is much wider than as a technical term of English law. See Obligatio. Classification. The various sorts of obligations may be classified and defined as follows: They are either perfect or imperfect. A perfect obligation is one recognized and sanctioned by positive law ; one of which the fulfillment can be enforced by the aid of the law. Aycock v. Martin. 37 Ga. 124, 92 Am. Dee, 56. But if the duty created by the obligation operates only on the moral sense, without being enforced by any positive law, it is called an "imperfect obligation." and creates no right of action, nor has it any legal operation. The duty of exercising gratitude, charity, and the other merely moral duties is an example of this kind of obligation. Civ. Code La. art. 1757 ; Edwards v. Kearzey, 96 U. S. 600, 24 L. Ed. 793. They are either natural or civil. A natural obligation is one which cannot be enforced by action, but which is binding on the party who makes it in conscience and according to natural justice. Blair v. Williams, 4 Litt. (Ky.) 41. A civil obligation is a legal tie, which gives the party with whom it is contracted the right of enforcing its performance by law Civ. Co.de La. art. 1757; Poth. Obi. 173, 191. They are either express or implied; the former being those by which the obligor binds himself in express terms to perform his obligation; while the latter are'such as are raised by the implication or inference of the law from the nature of the transaction. They are determinate or indeterminate; the former being the case where the thing contracted to be delivered ls specified as an individual; the latter, where it may be any one of a particular class or species. They are divisible or indivisible, according as the obligation may or may not be lawfully broken into several distinct obligations without the consent of the obligor. They are joint or several; the former, where there are two or more obligors binding themselves j'ointly for the performance of the obligation ; the latter, where the obligors promise, each for himself, to fulfill the engagement. They are personal or real; the former being the case when the obligor himself is personally liable for the performance of the engagement, but does not directly bind his property; the latter, where reni estate, not the person of the obligor, is primarily liable for performance. They are heritable or personal. The former Is the case when the heirs and assigns of one party may enforce the performance against the heirs of the other; the latter, when the obligor binds himself only, not his heirs or representatives. They are either principal or accessory. A principal obligation is one which is the most important obj'ect of the engagement of the contracting parties ; while an accessory obligation depends upon or is collateral to the principal. They may be either conjunctive or alternative. The former is one in which the several objects in it are connected by a copulative, or in any other manner which shows that all of them are severally comprised in the contract. This contract creates as many different obligations as there are different objects; and the debtor, when he wishes to discharge himself, may force the creditor to receive them separately. But where the things which form the object of the contract are separated by a disjunctive, then the obligation is alternative. A promise to deliver a certain thing or to pay a specified sum of money is an example of this kind of obligation. Civ. Co.de La. art 2063. They are either simple or conditional. Simple obligations are such as are not dependent for their execution on any event provided for by the parties, and which are not agreed to become void on the happening of any such event. Co.n-ditional obligations are such as are made to depend on an uncertain event If the obligation is not to take effect until the event happens, it is a suspensive condition ; if the obligation takes effect immediately, but is liable to be defeated when the event happens, it is then a resolutory condition. Civ. Code La. arts. 2020, 2021; Moss v. Smoker, 2 La. Ann. 989. They may be either single or penal; the latter, when a penal clause is attached to the undertaking, to be enforced in case the obligor fails to perform ; the former, when no such penalty is added. Other compound and descriptive terms.
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
That which binds one to do or to refrain from doing some act. See 96 U. S. 595, 24 L. Ed. 793.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary