DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer and I am NOT giving legal advice. Think of this as a friend who’s already gotten married, just sharing some things she wishes she had noticed about her contracts.
Contracts are freaking intimidating. When you get married, your wedding contracts may be the first bigger contracts you’ve ever signed that aren’t school or job related. Not only may they be the first, but you will have them with a ton of different vendors. Meaning, they’re probably all written differently. Talk about being in over your head.
While I can’t give you the 411 on absolutely every contract you will come across, I can let you know the five things to look for in your wedding contracts that I wish I had paid more attention to.
This one seems like a no brainer. Of course, you will know what you’re paying and when it’s due. That’s not the part I want to talk about… I want to chat about late fees. All good contracts will talk about late fees for payments. If you’re looking at a payment plan that is a little hefty to keep up with, then you probably want to request to spread out your payment plan. The average late fee is listed as a small percentage of the total that gets added on, sometimes increasing the longer the payment is late. Always double check what your full payment is, what that late fee would look like if financial hardship came your way and understand that the retainer is almost always a non-refundable retainer. Basically, know what you owe, what could be added and what you can’t get back.
Look at your cancellation policy closely before you sign. Vendors are running a business that feeds their families. They are not out to get you, take your money and not deliver. Most vendors are excited to serve you well and be as flexible as they can while serving their other clients too. When it comes to cancellation policies there are two common ones: either you forfeit just the non-refundable retainer when you cancel or you forfeit any monies paid up to that point. Neither is wrong. Vendors create contracts to protect both you and their business. The important part is that you are well aware of which type of policy you are signing for. If, God forbid, you had to cancel but you already paid in full then it’s really important to know if you signed a contract that legally forfeits your ability to get any money back. One last thing to note is if you cancel closer to your date, most vendor contracts will not give refunds because the lack of notice means they can no longer get a booking on that date.
A rescheduling clause should be mutually protective to both parties. If you are rescheduling only a few weeks before your date, most likely you will still owe your balance in full AND a new retainer. Just like when you cancel at the last minute, your vendor may no longer be able to book something on your original date because of short notice. That means their ability to provide for their family is jeopardized. Often, vendors also charge a rescheduling fee. The reason for that is market increase. As vendors invest into their own education, gear and gain experience, their prices go up to reflect that. (also, inflation. It’s a wild world we live in right now.) A rescheduling fee is to cover the average rate of price change that brides booking for that time of year are paying. What’s important for you to know is what happens if your vendor is no longer available. Again, there is no right or wrong way to do this, you just need to have clarity of what your specific contract is saying. You don’t want to be surprised. If your date has to be pushed back six months and your vendors are not available but you signed a contract that doesn’t require any refund that would make paying for a new vendor on your new date pretty darn stressful.
This clause is especially important. What happens if your vendor has an emergency, gets pregnant, gets sued and isn’t in business, etc. and cannot attend your day. A good contract will have a back up plan in place. As a photographer, for example, my contract’s back up plan is that one of my associate photographers will cover the day of services. While I will still manage the post-wedding services like editing and sending the gallery. You want to look for: what is the back up plan and what money will be refunded if you don’t agree with using the vendor chosen to cover. It is totally okay to ask your vendor about these details in the contract and allow them to explain how they’re going to serve you in an emergency.
Last, but definitely not least, the clause that covers things like natural disasters. Force majeure is defined as “unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.” Contracts can differ slightly from what it includes in it. Most commonly it’ll include acts of God, natural disasters, war, etc. Just like with the previous two clauses, the important part to note is what happens to your money when this occurs! If something like COVID-19 were to happen again and your date has to be postponed because of a government mandated order, most vendors will try to reschedule with you. What if you decide ‘screw it, we’re eloping’? At the bottom of this clause it should detail what can and what won’t be refunded.
All in all, your wedding contracts don’t have to be stressful. If you understand what happens with your money in these five clauses, then you’re golden! Every contract may be different, vendors will have different rules that fit with their needs as a business and protect their ability to stay afloat. No single way of doing it is better than another. The key is being educated as a consumer before you sign.
I hope you feel so much more confident to tackle booking vendors for your wedding day! Happy planning.