October 13, 2023
October 13, 2023

Transferring contracts: assignment and novation explained

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Whether it's due to internal restructuring or meeting commercial requirements like a business sale, many companies encounter the need to transfer contracts from one entity to another. However, it's important to note that this process is not as simple as replacing one party's name with another. In most cases, contracts can be legally transferred through one of two methods: assignment or novation.


An assignment of a contract involves transferring the rights (but not the obligations) of the outgoing party to the incoming party. Typically, an assignment doesn't require the consent or agreement of the other party involved in the contract (the continuing party), unless specifically stated in the terms of the relevant contract.

To effect an assignment, a deed is often executed by both the outgoing party and the incoming party. If the consent of the continuing party is necessary, it is usually convenient to include this consent in the deed and have the continuing party execute it as well.

An assignment does not relieve the outgoing party of its ongoing obligations to the continuing party under the contract. In order to protect the outgoing party against future breaches of contract by the incoming party, it is common for the assignment deed to include provisions where the incoming party:

  • promises to the outgoing party that it will fulfil the outgoing party's contractual obligations after the assignment date; and
  • provides indemnification to the outgoing party against any claims made by the continuing party for any failures by the incoming party to fulfil those obligations after the assignment.

Even if the consent of the continuing party is not required, for the assignment to have legal effect written notice of the assignment must be given to the continuing party. This written notice ensures that all parties involved are informed about the transfer.


Another method to transfer contracts is through novation. In legal terms, novation refers to the substitution of a new contract for an existing one, maintaining the same terms as the original contract, but between the continuing party and the incoming party instead of between the continuing party and the outgoing party. Unlike assignment, a novation transfers both the rights and obligations under the relevant contract from the outgoing party to the incoming party.

In practice, novation is commonly achieved by substituting the outgoing party with the incoming party. This means that, from the effective date of the novation, the incoming party assumes all the rights and obligations previously held by the outgoing party, and the continuing party releases the outgoing party from any further obligations under the contract.

It is important to note that the agreement of the continuing party is always required for a novation to be legally effective. While novation offers certain advantages over an assignment, such as a better legal liability position for the outgoing party, it can be more challenging to accomplish due to the necessity of securing the continuing party's agreement.

Similar to assignment, novation typically involves executing a deed of novation, which states the agreement of all parties to substitute the outgoing party with the incoming party.

Other methods:

In addition to novation and assignment, there are indirect methods available for transferring rights and obligations under a contract. For example, where a party to a contract is a company, it may be possible to transfer the company's rights and obligations under a contract by the shareholders of that company transferring their shares in the company to a third party. By doing so, the company remains a party to the contract, eliminating the need for assignment or novation. Instead, a new shareholder obtains control of the company and indirectly obtains the benefit of the rights, and the burden of the obligations, of the company under the contract.

Choosing the right transfer method

When faced with the need to transfer a contract, whether through assignment, novation, or an indirect method, it is important to consider several factors to determine the best option for your specific situation, including:

  • The terms of the contract itself – examine the terms to identify any provisions that prohibit, allow, or impose conditions on the transfer of the contract. Understanding these contractual provisions will help determine the available options and any limitations associated with each method.
  • Consider your ultimate goal in transferring the contract - evaluate which party should bear the responsibility for liability arising under the contract, both before and after the transfer. This assessment will help clarify which method of transfer aligns better with your desired outcomes.
  • The commercial position of the parties - consider the commercial positions of the outgoing party, the continuing party, and the incoming party. Assess factors such as the willingness of the continuing party to provide consent for the transfer. Understanding the potential challenges or cooperation you may encounter from the relevant parties will assist in selecting the most viable transfer method.

By carefully evaluating these factors, you can make an informed decision on the most suitable transfer method for your specific circumstances.

For more information and to navigate the transfer process smoothly, please contact any member of the Sierra Legal team, whose contact details can be found here (Link).

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