Sometimes we see clients getting confused between what an assignment is and what a novation is. This article answers that. Both are often used where one company wants another to step in and fulfill its role in a contract.
How does an assignment work?
In an assignment, the person assigning the contract to another person is called the “Assignor”. The person being assigned the contract is called the “Assignee”. It is the Assignee that receives the benefit of the contract. Some contracts cannot be assigned without the consent of the other party to the contract, and some contracts may expressly prohibit assignment. If there is no provision concerning assignment, then the general position is that the contract can be assigned to another. If the contract is assigned to the Assignee, they must perform their part to the contract. As such, the other party will usually want to check that the proposed Assignee has sufficient skill and finance to carry out the contract. Therefore, it is common for there to be an assignment provision in the contract that accounts for this, so that the other party can withhold consent if the proposed Assignee fails to meet those criteria.
It is important to note that although the Assignee is expected to perform the contract, they do not carry the burden of the contract. In other words, if the Assignee fails to perform their part of the contract, the Assignor remains liable. As a result, if the Assignee is insolvent then the other party can seek recourse from the Assignor or demand that they perform the contract. However, it may be that the Assignor is no longer able to meet a demand made under the assigned contract. Thus, it is best practice to perform due diligence on the proposed Assignee before the contract is assigned to them.
What about a novation?
In a novation, the new party, known as the “Novatee”, does not take over the existing contract. Rather, the Novatee enters into a new contract with the other party/continuing party. The original party that has exited the contract between them and the other party is called the “Novator”. Unlike an Assignor, the Novator is released from their obligations under that contract. As such, they do not carry the burden of the contract. It is the Novatee that carries the burden of the contract entered into subsequently. Consequently, if the Novatee fails to perform the contract, the continuing party cannot seek recourse from the Novator. Thus, a novation is of higher risk to the continuing party than an assignment.
In forming any contract, you should ensure that the contract does not allow the other side to novate the contract prior to obtaining your consent. Prior to entering into a novation, the continuing party should do due diligence on the proposed Novatee to certify that they are sufficiently capable of performing the contract.
Generally a good option is for a contract to be novated – it is then like the new party steps into the shoes of the old and there are fewer questions about who is doing what. However, there can be reasons why an assignment is better. If you have any questions about this then we would be happy to discuss.