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Wedding Contracts


Everything you need to know

by Ali Noland

Wedding Contracts | A Practical Wedding

Your vision of your wedding day may be full of pretty Pinterest-y images and stomach-flipping emotion, but it should also include the calm confidence that you have solid contracts backing you up. Contracts control your money, and they control the products and services you will receive on your wedding day. So pay attention and use this experience as an opportunity to really lean in, hone your negotiating skills, and be a badass bride who knows her legal rights.

Brace yourself and imagine that something goes wrong: your flowers don’t arrive, your dress was cut too short in alterations, or your band starts packing up to leave after playing for only an hour. Usually (like ninety-nine percent of the time), a good contract can solve those disputes quickly and without too much drama. The other one percent of the time, your contract will allow you to pursue a legal remedy through the court system.

Here are the basics you need to know in order to confidently handle all your wedding contracts:

WHAT IS REQUIRED IN ORDER TO FORM A CONTRACT? An offer, acceptance, and consideration on the part of both parties. “Consideration” just means what the person is required to do (or not do) under the contract. For example, pay money, officiate the service, or let you use her home as a venue. A contract requires that both parties provide consideration; otherwise it is a gift. So if your cousin offers to do your wedding photos for free, and you don’t have to promise anything in return, that isn’t actually an enforceable contract. That’s a gift, and you can’t (usually) go to court to enforce a gift. My advice is that relying on gifts is risky. Try to figure out a way to provide consideration of some kind in exchange for whatever they are offering. Consideration does not have to be equal, so get creative. Just remember that whatever you agree to is binding on you as well, so follow through.

PLAN AHEAD AND DON’T HIDE THE BALL. Before you meet with any vendor, think about what you want, and what you don’t want. Make a plan for how you will raise these issues when negotiating your contract. While it may be awkward to bring up certain things, leaving them unspoken is not a successful contracting strategy. If you know you’ll be too uncomfortable to raise certain issues in the meeting, try sending a pre-meeting email laying out the topics you want to discuss or bring a friend tasked with bringing up the dreaded request.

GET. IT. IN. WRITING. The law recognizes verbal contracts, and we all know that they happen every day, but do you really want to be arguing with your florist on your wedding day about whether you two agreed on five bridesmaid’s bouquets or eight? The problem with a verbal contract is that there is almost no way to prove that you are right, even if you KNOW that you never would have ordered five bouquets when you have eight bridesmaids. So PLEASE just get it in writing, okay? Some contracts must be in writing in order to be enforceable (for example, contracts for services that cannot be completed within one year or contracts for the sale of goods over $500). Additionally, a written contract prevents problems from ever arising because no one has to rely on memory as to the terms of the agreement.

When you are working with a friend or family member, asking for a written contract can be tricky, but it can help prevent awkwardness, disappointment, or worse. Memorize this line, “I would really like for us to put all of this down in writing so that we don’t have to remember all the details.” The key here is just to get a basic description of your agreement in writing and signed by both people. What are you required to do? What is she required to do? Your contract can be very short, handwritten on a sheet of notebook paper, and in plain English—no technical contract terms required!

BE SPECIFIC. Your contract with the florist calls for all white flowers and he shows up bearing nothing but tiny bundles of baby’s breath. Well, those teeny tiny little buds are all white… This is why specificity is important! If you worked together to design a specific arrangement using lilies and tulips, say so in the contract. Attach photos, magazine clippings, or the florist’s sketches. Your goals here are twofold: First, you want the vendor to be able to use this contract to meet your requests and make your wedding day exactly as you envision it. Second, your goal is to be clear enough that an outsider (possibly a judge) could read it and understand what you two agreed upon. Define terms if you need to. Not every photographer has the same understanding of terms like “photojournalism” and “detail shots.”

BE CLEAR ABOUT WHO IS PAYING! Because so many weddings today are a group effort, wedding contracts need to be specific as to who is obligated to pay. If you sign a contract saying that you will pay a certain amount of money, you are obligating yourself (YOU individually) to pay. Even if you verbally tell the venue manager that your in-laws have offered to pay for the open bar, it doesn’t matter if that contract says you are responsible for the full amount. Don’t sign anything saying that you are paying if you are not prepared to be personally responsible for payment. If your mom and dad have agreed to pay for the venue, they need to be the ones signing the contract.

BE CLEAR ABOUT WHEN/HOW PAYMENT IS TO BE MADE. Does your vendor require some (or all) of the money up front before they will do any work, or do they send you an invoice after the wedding? You don’t want to find out that you have no wedding cake because the baker was waiting for you to pay a deposit. Speaking of deposits, they are negotiable too! If you don’t feel comfortable paying sixty percent up front, say so. And for goodness’ sake, don’t pay a hundred percent up front unless you really know and trust the vendor (as in, it’s your mom).

REFER TO YOURSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON. Yep, it is totally annoying when someone does it in conversation, but it is totally awesome in a written contract. Instead of “I” and “me” and “you” and the like, simply put your name and the vendor’s name. Your contract is now clearer and more specific.

READ EVERY SINGLE WORD. If you are entering into a written contract that is provided by a vendor, which is usually the case, you need to know what you are signing. If you don’t understand something, ASK. If you still don’t get it, or if the verbal explanation doesn’t clearly match what you are reading, SAY SO. If you sign something that says you are required to pay a fifty percent late fee, it’s going to be really hard for you to prove that the vendor verbally told you that she would waive any late fee. The written contract controls, so make sure the writing accurately reflects your understanding of the agreement. If it doesn’t, you two need to modify it. Make some notes on that written contract before you sign it. Talk it over with your vendor and then just make a few notes in the margins and put your initials beside them. Have the vendor initial those notes as well. Your notes are now part of the contract. If your vendor scoffs at adding notes, especially if those notes simply restate the verbal assurances she has already given you, you need to find a new vendor.

PRE-PRINTED CONTRACT FORMS ARE NOT SET IN STONE! You can still negotiate changes. Don’t let them tell you that they can’t change things simply because those things are printed on their standard form. You two can decide to mark through provisions, make notes, make additions, attach extra pages, whatever you want. Just make sure that you both initial any changes that you make. If the vendor refuses to budge on certain contract points, that’s their right. But “it’s already printed on the form” is not a good enough reason. Ultimately, you can decide whether you want to do business with that particular vendor under those conditions.

DON’T SIGN AWAY YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS. For example, if you live in Texas and you are getting married in Texas, why would you sign a contract that says you agree to be bound by Vermont law and to appear in a Vermont court should a dispute arise? That would be a huge inconvenience to you… and that’s the point. Companies put these provisions in their contracts because they know that it will make it much less likely that you’ll take them to court if things go sour. The same goes for mandatory arbitration or mediation provisions—these can make it more costly for you to recover for breach of contract, should the need arise.

GET A COPY! If you enter into a written contract and the vendor has the only copy, it will do you absolutely no good in the event of a dispute. You need to have (and keep) a copy.

WHEN YOU MAKE MODIFICATIONS TO THE CONTRACT, GET. THOSE. IN. WRITING. TOO. This is where people screw up! Like a good student, you got your original contract in writing, signed by both parties, and you have a copy tucked away in a safe place (right?). Now you need to make a small (or big) change—for example, you need ten more meals from your caterer. You call up the caterer, explain the situation, and quickly reach an agreement that you will pay an additional $200 and she will add ten additional meals to the contract. You now have to amend your written contract to reflect the change. The best option is for you and the vendor to either handwrite the change onto a copy of your original contract, date it, and both sign it or to create, sign, and date a brand new “Amended Contract.” However, in a pinch, it is enough to exchange emails or text messages confirming the change. Just make sure that your vendor actually responds (in writing) confirming the changes, or your emails and text messages will be useless (your vendor could easily say “I never agreed to that.”) Keep bugging her until she confirms the change in writing. Here’s a text message example:

You: Hey, Carla, I am confirming that we just spoke and agreed that you’d add ten additional meals to our contract for an additional $200, is that correct?

Carla: Yep, that’s right.

You have now modified your contract and confirmed the modification in writing. Easy!

DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. In my line of work, “document” is a verb. It means make a record of everything. So, for example, if you pay in full for your wedding dress, you need a receipt. If your wedding cake is delivered in poor condition, take photos and contact the vendor immediately (contacting her in writing is even better). In reality, you aren’t going to have documentation of every little thing that happens, but anything that makes you nervous or presents the potential for problems deserves at least a cell phone photo or note.

WHAT TO DO IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG. If something happens that you believe violates your contract, you should notify the vendor immediately, give them an opportunity to remedy the situation, and then assert your legal rights if necessary. The basic idea here is that you shouldn’t sue your florist for breach of contract if you never notified her that there was a problem with the flowers. If a vendor falls short of a contractual obligation, contact them immediately (preferably in writing, or follow up in writing) and give them a chance to remedy the situation or discount the contract price to reflect the shortcoming (be reasonable here; you aren’t going to get a fifty percent discount for a small shortcoming, but it is fine to say that you won’t pay for the two bouquets that weren’t delivered). If you two can reach some sort of agreement as to the problem, great. If not, you now have to decide how you want to proceed.

Under the law, a material breach of contract by one party (the vendor) means that the other party (you) is no longer required to perform his or her obligations under the contract and is entitled to all available legal remedies. If you receive goods or services that are substantially less than what you bargained for, you are not required to pay. I cannot stress enough, however, that the breach must be substantial. You don’t want to refuse payment over something insignificant; you could end up paying what you owe under the contract AND expensive legal fees. Think long and hard before you refuse payment on this basis, but remember that it is your legal right to do so if your vendor commits a material breach of contract. In this situation you will almost always end up in court, so make sure you have covered all your bases: you have a written contract that is specific as to the issue now in dispute; you notified the vendor when you recognized that there was a problem; and you documented everything with photos, emails, witnesses, etc. At that point, you need to notify the vendor, in writing, that she has materially breached the contract by doing XY & Z and that, due to that breach, you will not be making any future payments under the contract. At that point, you cannot expect any further performance from you vendor, either. You may get angry phone calls and/or emails from the vendor, but be careful: anything you say could be used against you in court. Many of us try to smooth over conflict by apologizing or being self-deprecating. Don’t do that! As soon as you make a comment like, “I’m probably overreacting,” you can bet that it will be the vendor’s Exhibit A when you get to court. Your best bet is to consult an attorney. Your second best bet is to keep your mouth shut—don’t say anything! You have already stated that there was a material breach and that you are refusing payment; nothing more needs to be discussed.

SAVED BY THE CREDIT CARD? A good friend recently discovered that her reception venue, a local restaurant, had shut down. When the restaurant refused to refund her deposit, she contacted her credit card company (the card upon which her deposit had been paid) and explained the situation. The credit card company stopped payment to the venue, and the restaurant eventually decided that it wasn’t worth it to try to fight the credit card company over her deposit, knowing that they had breached the underlying contract. The moral of that story is that if you have a contract dispute, sometimes you don’t have to wait until you can get into court to get relief. If you paid by credit card, contact your card company first and see what they can do.

CONTRACTS ARE TOOLS THAT CAN PROTECT YOU, GIVE YOU PEACE OF MIND, AND KEEP YOUR WEDDING DAY RUNNING SMOOTHLY. Don’t be afraid to use them. Just Remember:

  • Get it in writing.
  • Read Everything.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  • A simple contract is always better than no contract at all!

Happy contracting!

DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS POST IS INTENDED BY THE AUTHOR AND APW TO SERVE AS GENERAL INFORMATION AND GUIDANCE. IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE OR SERVE IN PLACE OF SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE AND DOES NOT CREATE ANY ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. THE LAW CHANGES VERY RAPIDLY, DIFFERS FROM JURISDICTION TO JURISDICTION, AND IS SUBJECT TO INTERPRETATION BY THE COURTS. LEGAL ADVICE MUST BE TAILORED TO THE SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES OF EACH CASE, AND THIS POST SHOULD NOT BE USED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE ADVICE OF COMPETENT LEGAL COUNSEL.

Ali Noland

Ali is an Arkansas attorney, wife, mom, and APW groupie. Longtime readers will recognizer her as “Ambi.” Ali’s greatest life skill is the ability to google absolutely anything, which comes in quite handy for a slightly hypochondriac mom who obsessively plans ahead for every possible contingency. She is also particularly good at starting Pinterest-y projects that she may or may not ever finish and spending hours planning the perfect gift for every gift-giving occasion. Ali has been an avid APW reader since before she could optimistically call herself pre-engaged. She and husband Ross had a teeny tiny APW-inspired Christmas Eve courthouse wedding a few years ago that she’ll eventually get around to submitting.

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  • Eh

    The only vendor we did not have a written contract with was our reception venue. I thought it was a bit weird considering the venue was a golf course and holds weddings and banquets on a regular basis. (When I went in to finalize the date the manager said that it’s just how they do things – it is a small town, that said most of my other vendors were also from small towns and had contracts.) Luckily everything went well. That said having a contract would have cleared up a few things. For example that the catering was a separate invoice (we were told that the catering was part of the venue but then was told the night of our wedding that we had to pay separately), or the price of linens (we were more or less led to believe that they were included in the hall rental price), or when we would have access to the venue (we agreed to a time and we had access at that time but they still wanted to use one table in the banquet hall for golfers to eat at in case the tables in the other room were full), or that it was supposed to be an open bar (the manager knew that but he didn’t tell any of his staff – we worked it out after my father came to me and said that the bartender was charging for drinks), or that meals for children under a certain age were free (we were questioned a number of times about how we were only paying for X number of meals but we had seating for 10 more people – yep we have 10 kids under the age of 5 coming to our wedding). It would have also made things easier on their end too. I was told that the food services manager would contact me about the menu. When he didn’t I tried contacting him but he didn’t answer his phone (he was always hard to get a hold of). A few hours later the general manager called me to ask if I still planned on having our reception at the venue because the food services manager wanted to know since I hadn’t called him about the menu yet (clearly he hadn’t checked his messages).

    • Meg Keene

      Also, it’s worth saying that when people say “no contract, that’s just how we do things,” you can very nicely say, “Oh, well, we’re going to need to move forward with a contract.” There are times putting your foot down is worth it. And there are also times where being pressured to do something you don’t feel comfortable with early on, isn’t a great sign.

      • Eh

        If I was doing it again I would insist on a contract.

  • emilyg25

    One more thing, specific to photographers: Make sure your contract stipulates when you can expect your photos and in what form (e.g.: a CD of edited, high-res photos within 8 weeks of the wedding date). I see so many newly married couples running after photographers wondering when they’ll get their photos back.

    • Jen

      This is my strongest recommendation to folks as well. If I had done this, I wouldn’t have had to send as many emails to my photographer wondering what was up and when I should be expecting photos back.

    • Meg Keene

      I also feel like I should bring up the fact that I consistently see people having unrealistic expectations of how fast they’ll get photos back. YES. There are photographers that will return your photos in a week or two. But in general that means: 1) They’re inexperienced and don’t have a ton of weddings yet, so they have time. or 2) They’re doing a sloppy batch edit, which means applying the same presets to every photo without reviewing them. OR 3) They’re robots. I do know some amazing people that fall into 3, but they’re rare. So, a two-three month plus turn around is more than normal, though you should expect to get teaser images (sometimes up to 100 of the best ones) earlier.

  • Marie

    What a practical and informative post! I’d love to see a similar run-down about the biggest contract of them all– the marriage contract! A compact guide with summaries of different property regimes (community property, separate property, etc), a rough guide to prenups. Info on the points most usually addressed, stipulations that prove difficult to enforce in court, etc (add to that some links or summary info about enforceability of prenups in different states). I’d love to see examples of how real couples have customized their contracts to better suit their circumstances.

    • Meg Keene

      This is something we’d like to do, but it’s daunting, and not single post material. Marital law is huge. It’s not just a contract, it’s a whole practice area of the law that people devote careers to. The other salient issue is that marital law is different in different states, sometimes radically different. And the law that applies to a divorce is the law of the state the person petitioning for a divorce is living in, not the state you got married in. IE, you don’t know what it’s going to be.

      So while it’s something I’d like to tackle, it’s not something we could offer any sort of compact guide to.

      That said, if there are family lawyers in the house that would like to work with us on this (huge hat tip to Ambi for volunteering to work with us on this post, which I’ve been working on every lawyer I know to help me on for years), get in touch.

    • Lauren

      Just wanted to second this, even seeing Meg’s comment. A rough guide to prenups, about what aspects to think about and possibly include, would be great.

  • Kelsey

    I just love APW. Thanks for this.

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  • sara g

    Well shit, now I’m paranoid because I dropped my dress off for alterations and it didn’t even cross my mind to get a contract for that.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh, you’re fine. I mean, get a contract, get a contract. But there are things even people married to lawyers do without contracts sometimes. Dress alterations is not infrequently one of them.

      (Not that it’s a BAD idea to have a contract for it, just… doing it without a contract happens plenty.)

      • sara g

        Oh good. I had never heard of a contract for alterations but got paranoid I had missed something.

        • ambi

          Actually Sara, you probably already have a contract, just a verbal one. If you agreed to do something (pay $) and they agreed to do something (alter the dress to your specifications), that is a contract. While my post does say that it is always safer to get contracts in writing, this is an example of a verbal contract. Just because it isn’t in writing doesn’t mean it isn’t an enforceable contract. (Again, just a disclaimer, we are talking about the US, and I can’t give specific legal advice as to any individual case or jurisdiction).

          • ElisabethJoanne

            And if an estimate wasn’t provided, I think we’re outside contract law and sara g would have tort remedies.

  • EF

    A big, big heads up to the contingent of UK peoples here (from a UK lawyer, once again, this isn’t legal advice or meant to be taken as such): the verbal contract more or less doesn’t exist in the UK, and consideration as (so far as I can tell) taken way more seriously than in the USA. As the end of the post says, these are general guidelines, and they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but especially across international borders. Just be smart and do *everything* in writing like Ali says. :-D

    EDIT: one more thing! if you’re in the UK and need a contract written because it’s more informal, the handy forms on how to set those up are available at the Post office. please don’t trust other (coughtescocough) not-law-firm legal docs.

    • Meg Keene

      YES. This isn’t meant to even cover the basics in other countries. But I think “get it in writing” probably applies everywhere.

  • Caitlin_DD

    This is so awesome, thank you guys. I wonder if you have any advice about making sure a venue doesn’t book over you. Had this happen to a friend, and though it was fine, I’d rather not be scrambling to find somewhere new because an opportunity for more cash came up two months before the wedding.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Theoretically, this is exactly what contracts are for, from the couple’s standpoint – protecting you against a vendor’s renegging. Your friend ought to be able to get her first venue to pay for any extra costs associated with the second venue, plus some extra for the search (and reprinting invitations, etc.). But in reality, getting your money back from a vendor that breaks a contract can be a long process, and it’s very hard to get money for emotional damages like stress.

      If this particular scenario is a major fear, you could ask for a liquidated damages clause. Something like: “If venue cancels without just cause, venue will immediately refund the deposit plus $x000.” The trick is figuring out an x that’s fair. With a liquidated damages clause, you waive your right to recover other damages. So x has to be big enough to cover any alternative venues, plus related expenses. But if it’s too big, the venue will balk, especially if their only protection against you backing out is your deposit.

      • Caitlin_DD

        Thank you, I never would’ve thought of liquidated damages.

    • ambi

      Put a penalty clause in your contract that would make it harder (i.e. more expensive) for the venue to breach your contract by booking someone else. I can’t guarantee that they won’t end up with a later opportunity that would be more lucrative even with that penalty clause, but it will shift the math in your favor. Something like, “Venue agrees to pay Caitin_DD a full refund of all contract fees plus a 50% penalty fee if the venue cancels this contract less than 120 days prior to the event.” Or something like that. Just tell them up front what you are afraid of and ask that y’all work out some language to put into the contract to ease your mind. Again, it is all about bringing up the awkward issues and having those discussions at the outset.

      • Caitlin_DD

        Thank you! I will keep this in mind.

  • Oakland Sarah

    I like to think of contracts as being a good way of putting everyone’s expectations out in the open. Think of a contract not as a scary document, but as a way of avoiding disputes–it’s all about clear communication. Contracts are a good way to realize if you’re on the same page and have the same idea about what is going to go down.

    Another good thing to look out for or consider adding is a clause about what happens if things don’t go right. Our venue’s contract didn’t have anything in it about what would happen if the whole thing was destroyed in a fire or for whatever crazy reason wouldn’t be available. We spoke with them and had them add in something. Previously, it just stated that our deposit was non-refundable, but now it states that they would either accommodate us at another date or refund everything. Sure, we still would have had some remedy if they he place burnt down and they didn’t want to refund us, but we would have had to file court documents and negotiate. Now, we’re all on the same page and it’s less likely that we’ll have a disagreement should something go wrong.

    …and now back to studying for the bar! Thanks for the lovely and on-point distraction. :)

    *not to be construed as legal advice, just general legal information

    • ambi

      Great points! Good luck with the bar! Like most things in life, it is both worse and not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

      • LCB

        Good luck on your bar! I’m studying, too! <3 APW distractions. :)

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’d be interested in others’ experiences, but in the wedding context, I think of contracts as preventing problems and providing a remedy later, but not as solving problems day-of. With bigger vendors, maybe they can fix things day-of, but if your flowers don’t show up at all, and you call your florist, and they’re a small shop in a small town, they just may not have much to give you if they forgot about your order.

    Do most people pay their vendors day-of? We paid everyone but the limo drivers in advance. Maybe we had the option of paying day-of, but we didn’t want to worry about carrying around a check book and didn’t have a day-of coordinator to deal with these things. And a day-of coordinator would have had to go through us for anything as big as withholding part of a contracted fee or finding an alternative vendor last-minute for a higher price.

    So if our caterer skipped a course, it would have been a matter of getting a refund, not holding back partial payment at the end of the night.

  • Emily

    This is something I wish I’d paid more attention to pre-wedding, especially with my photography contract. I was very focused on the fact that I get all the files of the pictures, but somehow I missed the part that I still have to print the photos (at exorbitant prices) through her. Going back and looking at the contract, it is there, but in my mind it is very unclear… when I read that paragraph before I simply thought it meant I couldn’t SELL the photos myself, not that I couldn’t have them printed somewhere else.

    This has given me a heavy heart for the past few days… I was really looking forward to putting together an album of prints, but I don’t see how I can at these prices. My fault. Buyer beware. :(

    • B

      Well, if you have the actual files, what’s to stop you using your at-home printer? (I know this sounds unethical but if the prices are ridiculous…..)

  • MDBethann

    Just a thought on contracts with photographers, simply based on my own personal (bad) experience: You might want to see if you can pay for the photographer’s services in chunks, i.e. a percentage the day of (or right before) the wedding for the actual photography, but then some sort of “payment on delivery” for the photos and any albums the photographer might be putting together for you.

    I say this because the photographer I used, who came highly recommended by a friend who had attended numerous weddings that used this photographer without incident, started having some issues shortly after my wedding, causing headaches for me and dozens of other brides (including my friend) when it came to getting the photo CDs and/or albums she was contractually obligated to provide to us. I was one of the lucky ones – I got my photo CD in about a month (my friend, who married 5 months after me still hasn’t received her photo CD over 18 months later), but I had to badger the photographer for the photo album and ended up getting it 13 months after my wedding. Several brides who married shortly after me in 2012 still haven’t received their albums. Problem was, we all paid her up front either by cash, check, or PayPal, so when she stopped responding to emails and phone calls, we had little recourse to get what we paid for. Apparently, her personal life fell apart and we pieced together that she was using the fees paid by one bride to cover the albums of another.

    Anyway, just a thought based on experience (I am NOT a lawyer). You never can tell when a previously reputable vendor might change, so it doesn’t hurt to have a card or two in your own pocket to ensure that services are rendered. I hope none of this happens to you!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      In construction contracts, it’s very typical to have pay-as-you-go contracts, where the work is paid for like it’s done – in stages. Then there’s a hold-back of usually 10% that the owner retains until the final sign-off (government does all its inspections, every last loose drawer handle is fixed to the owner’s liking).

      I’ve reviewed a few wedding-related contracts like this. Usually, they’re set up to protect the vendor – a 10% deposit holds your date well in advance; 50% is due closer; rest is due day-of or week-of. But, yeah, I think they can be set up to protect both sides, especially where there’s a service completed after the wedding – delivery of photos and albums is one. Another is where a vendor is responsible for cleaning. “Caterer will receive an additional $200 by [date a couple weeks later] if venue is cleaned such that cleaning deposit is refunded to couple.”

    • Allie Moore

      First, I’m so sorry to hear that your photographer failed to deliver. From a wedding photographer (and, coincidentally, a law student who recently finished Contracts law) — we would not enter into a contract where a substantial amount of payment was not due until after delivery of final images. My reasoning is this: we have a business that we want to see succeed and a strong incentive to treat our clients well. If a client doesn’t get good service, they have a number of outlets where they can complain about us and cause us serious detriment: Yelp, WeddingWire, BBB, social media, word of mouth, etc. It is very detrimental for our business if when someone googles my name, or the name of my business, angry client complaints come up On the other hand, if we have a client who doesn’t make their final payment we have essentially only the threat of legal action against them, and it doesn’t take a year of law school to know that taking people to court is expensive and often not feasible (to be clear, I would never, ever take to a public forum to complain about a client who failed to pay by name).

      I know this incentive structure doesn’t exactly work when someone just decides to give up on their business but at some point we just have to ask people to take that risk on because it is too much risk for our small business to bear to have only collections/threatened lawsuits to rely on when we need to collect from a client.

      While I’d be open to a contract with maybe 10% reserved for receipt of final images I ultimately think we have a much stronger interest in delivering to preserve our good name than the client does in paying us and I would never sign a contract with a client who I didn’t know personally that allowed the client to withhold a substantial amount of payment until I delivered all of the images.

      Other small business owners may disagree but just wanted to throw the business-owner perspective in there as it might help inform people’s negotiations with their vendors.

  • Anne

    My husband is an attorney and was reallyyyy on top of this stuff while we were wedding planning. Unfortunately, it didn’t mesh well with our vendors’ mentalities about contracts; most viewed them as a formality at best. We got married in a rural area where everyone pretty much worked based on their reputation and their word, and there weren’t enough vendors in the area to switch to someone else when one “didn’t do contracts.” Oh, the headaches this caused.

    Luckily they all kept their word and did a great job, but pretty much all of them either flatly refused to change their standard form contract or didn’t have one at all. A few got kind of offended when we asked questions, as if we didn’t trust them. One person – a photographer – actually refused to work with us after we politely requested she add in a clause to protect us against her canceling at the last minute, since there was nothing written in her form contract to prevent that from happening with zero repercussions. It really bummed me out because her photos were absolutely stunning.

    I imagine this stuff may be easier for people getting married in urban areas and/or places that do a lot of weddings. For those getting married in places with more of a small town mentality, my advice would be to tread lightly but firmly.

    • Christine

      I live in a large city and was shocked to recently have this same experience. My fiance and I found a small, historic venue that seemed perfect for us. They did have a contact, but a number of things were missing, such as the the tables, glassware, and servingware they said they would provide. Having done my homework, I asked to get the aforementioned and a number of things mentioned on the tour into writing.

      They stonewalled us. This venue is a one-man-show kind of place, so we couldn’t even appeal to anyone else. It’s frustrating because many of these articles tell you to get everything in writing, but if the venue doesn’t let you, then what? We ultimately decided to view it as a red flag and move on to another venue.

  • Wedding Organizer in Bangalore

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    Wedding and Event Planners in Bangalore

  • Kari

    I really enjoyed this post, but I disagree about not paying the balance in full before the event. Many venues with wedding packages require a deposit on booking and then the full balance a week or two before the wedding. Similarly so with photographers.

    That’s just the way business is done in this game, I suspect often because paying vendors on the day is a bit awkward and a pain in the neck.

    Paying someone in full before an event doesn’t leave you vulnerable as long as you have a contract. At least where I live, anyway.

    • ambi

      Great point!

  • Jenna

    We had a contract, but even that hasn’t protected us from this: We had to fire our wedding planner a few months out from our wedding, as she had gotten NOTHING done in an entire year of planning. She did not deliver what she said she would (we had it in writing), so I asked for our deposit back twice, in writing both times. She finally responded to the last email and said she was “drafting a response” and then thanked us for our patience. We really need that money back now, because we are stuck scrambling and paying for anyone we can get as the result of her doing absolutely nothing for an entire year (we are having a large wedding in a popular wedding location at a prime time of year with a lot of out-of-town guests, so things like self-catering and people transporting themselves are not feasible). I am livid, but also very grateful that we had taken care of our venue and photographer ourselves prior to signing on with her.

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  • LCB

    My fiancé and I got engaged on the day of our law school graduation (we met in the law library in our first year– uber nerdy!). We’ve been holding off wedding planning while we study for the PA Bar, but I like to take a break and look at wedding stuff on here to keep my sanity. Can’t believe I found this article today! Great article, and thanks for the Contracts review! :)