If you’re faced with the question of contract formation in your legal dealings, take the following three steps to find the obligation in the parties’ interaction:

  1. Look for a bargained-for contract — an exchange that has the three essential elements of offer, acceptance, and consideration.

  2. Look for a claim based on reliance (also known as promissory estoppel), meaning that one party reasonably changed his position due to the other party’s promise and lost something as a result.

  3. Look for a claim based on restitution, meaning that one party conferred a benefit on another without intending it as a gift or forcing it on the other party.

If you find at least one of these elements, you’re looking at an enforceable obligation.