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In most of the cases no formalities are necessary to start an association. But in some jurisdictions, there is a minimum for the number of persons starting an association, in others the association must register with the police or other official body to inform the public of the association's existence. This is not necessarily a tool of political control but much more a way of protecting the economy from fraud.
An unincorporated association has been defined as existing:
- "...where two or more persons are bound together for one or more common purposes by mutual undertakings, each having mutual duties and obligations, in an organisation which has rules identifying in whom control of the organisation and its funds is vested, and which can be joined or left at will."
In most countries, an unincorporated association does not have separate legal personality, and nor do members of the association usually enjoy limited liability. However, in some countries they are treated as having separate legal personality for tax purposes.
Associations that are organized for profit or financial gain are usually called partnerships. A special kind of partnership is a co-operative which is usually founded on one man–one vote principle and distributes its profits according to the amount of goods produced or bought by the member. Associations may take the form of a non-profit organization or they may be not-for-profit corporations; this does not mean that the association cannot make benefits from its activity, but all the benefits must be reinvested. Most associations have some kind of document or documents that regulate the way in which the body meets and operates. Such an instrument is often called the organization's bylaws, regulations, or agreement of association.
Freedom of association
The freedom of association stands in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- Article 20
- (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
- (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
- also sometimes called an voluntary organization, unincorporated association, or just an association
- Conservative and Unionist Central Office v Burrell (Inspector of Taxes)  1 WLR 522. The definition was for tax purposes, but was expressed to be of general application.
- For example, in the United Kingdom an unincorporated association is assessable to corporation tax.
- In most common law legal systems, partnership is defined by statute as "the relationship which subsists between persons carrying on a business in common with a view of profit"