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A remedy utilized by the courts to correct a written instrument so that it conforms to the Original Intent of the parties to such an instrument.

Legal documents, such as contracts, deeds, mortgages, and trusts, are all proper subjects for reformation. Since the original intent of the parties must control, however, a totally new agreement cannot be created through reformation.

The court, in the exercise of its Equity powers to do justice, will reform a document only in the event that Fraud or mutual mistake occurred in its execution.

Reformation is a remedy that is granted at the discretion of the court only where the facts and circumstances of a particular case warrant it. It will not be granted where an entirely new agreement would result between the parties or where unwarranted hardships would be imposed upon them. Only an individual who has acted in Good Faith can apply to the court to have an instrument reformed.

Reformation is not available as a remedy to correct every minor error, such as typographical errors; rather, it is granted where there has been a mutual mistake that substantially affects the parties' rights and obligations. The mistake must have been in existence at the time the instrument was drawn up. A mistake in the description of land and its boundaries ordinarily justifies reformation of an agreement where the purchaser and seller intended that all the seller's property be sold to the purchaser. In addition, a Mistake of Law by which both parties to the instrument have incorrectly comprehended the legal effect of the facts and the document might also result in reformation.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. the correction or change of an existing document by court order upon petition of one of the parties to the document. Reformation will be ordered if there is proof that the parties did not intend the language as written or there was an omission due to mistake or misunderstanding. Quite often a party petitions for reformation when one or both parties realize the effect of the document as written is different from what was expected but it has already been recorded or filed with a governmental agency. Examples: a paragraph is omitted from a trust which results in the transfer to the trust being a present gift subject to gift tax, so it needs to be corrected to keep the state taxing authority from demanding payment. The attorney writing the final draft of a limited partnership agreement writes in a calculation which would triple the profit to a limit partner above the amount discussed by the parties, and when the limited partner refuses to change the document, the general partner sues for reformation.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

REFORMATION, criminal law. The act of bringing back a criminal to such a sense of justice, so that he may live in society without any detriment to it.
     2. The object of the criminal law ought to be to reform the criminal, while it protects society by his punishment. One of the best attempts at reformation is the plan of solitary confinement in a penitentiary. While the convict has time to reflect he cannot be injured by evil example or corrupt communication.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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