COVID-19 and Weddings: What Are Your Rights as a Wedding Couple?

Mar 20

COVID-19 and Weddings: What Are Your Rights as a Wedding Couple?

This is a crazy time, not just for the wedding industry (obviously), but for the entire world. Many of my engaged friends and couples are talking about COVID-19 and weddings, and they want to know what their rights are as a wedding couple.

You’ve likely seen me sharing about how this craziness is effecting me as a small business owner. But, today I want to take a minute to share my advice for wedding couples in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because I know they’re hurting as much as we are; to us, it’s business but to them? It’s personal. I mean business is personal to me too, but, wedding days are already filled with so much stress and anxiety for many people, that this pandemic is literally just the worst.

What Are Your Rights as a Wedding Couple In the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic

First off, some obvious and important predicate: I’m not an attorney. When the shit hits the fan, talk to an actual attorney for legal advice. So, while I’m not someone with a law degree or a license to practice law, I do have some practical advice for couples dealing with their wedding plans going up in flames right now.

Steamboat Springs Resort wedding

1.) You absolutely, unequivocally, understandably and most definitely have the right to be upset, sad and angry.

Let me tell you a quick story. I promise, it’s relatable!

When Randy and I renewed our wedding vows in 2013, we spent roughly $25,000 on what essentially was a small wedding. I spent ten YEARS dreaming about this, planning it in my mind. I hired a photographer I loved, we had over 80 people RSVP, there was a blanket of freshly fallen snow and I planned to finally have my moment as the bride.

And then, the day of … people canceled. Literally, the day of. Most of them had super lame excuses, some got stuck in traffic due to an accident, some couldn’t get off work in time. Whatever the case was – I was absolutely devastated.

We had maybe a dozen people show up. Looking back, I honestly don’t think they knew what a big deal it was to me and that we were actually treating it as if it were our wedding, but I was beyond devastated. I spent the entire day in tears, because my dream of having the perfect wedding was crushed.

We threw away thousands of dollars worth of food, because we couldn’t eat it all and couldn’t donate it (we asked!). There was enough beer and sparkling cider to last us over 6 months when we brought it all home. Randy and I spent all that money on a professional photographer, and haven’t hung up a single image she took for us in our home. I can hardly even look at them, truth be told.

It’s been just over 7 years since this happened and I still have a little PTSD from it. I think my experience is why my heart is so broken for people who are being affected by this whole nightmare. When I say “I understand your grief” – trust me, I UNDERSTAND YOUR GRIEF.

2.) You have the right to ask for a postponement of your wedding.

If your wedding has fallen under the CDC’s recommendation to limit gatherings to 10 or less, you absolutely can and should postpone (NOT CANCEL). The entire wedding industry across the United States (and likely the world) is scrambling to make the best of this situation. While I can’t speak for anyone else – I can tell you that I’m doing whatever I can to smooth ruffled feathers and destress this situation.

For my own couples, here’s what I’ve done:

  • offered to reschedule sessions and weddings with no added fees or changes in pricing. I have seen some photographers refusing to reschedule weddings into the 2021 season without a price increase, but I refuse to do that. It feels greedy and self-serving and gross to me. The price you agreed to in the contract is the price you’ll pay, end of story.
  • opened up previously ‘scheduled off’ dates in order to reschedule. I’m giving my calendar some flexibility.
  • worked tirelessly with other vendors as a team to make the best out of this situation
  • set up back-up plans with associate photographers in the event either myself or Randy are not available for rescheduled dates

If you haven’t done so already, ask your photographer what they can do to help you. I can pretty much guarantee they’ll be willing to work with you and offer suggestions and solutions.

COVID-19 and Weddings: with so much uncertainty for right now and fear for the future, what does this mean for couples getting married?

3.) You might have the right to some money back … but please don’t be a jerk about it.

Re-read your contract, Boo. The point of a contract is to not only provide protection for both parties, but, a way to set expectations. In most cases, your non-refundable retainer is well, non-refundable. Why? The purpose of the non-refundable retainer is to retain services for a date and with weddings in the very immediate future, most of the time at least some work has already been done. And that work deserves to be paid for, especially when the work that has been done include things the photographer has spent actual money on (i.e. permits, travel costs, etc.). It also covers services already provided, too – like engagement sessions, months of communication and planning, etc.

If you choose to outright cancel your wedding, you’re choosing to forfeit the booking retainer.

HOWEVERWhat about the remainder of your overall cost after the non-refundable retainer portion?

If you’re choosing to cancel instead of postpone, depending on the specific terms of your contract, your vendor might technically owe you nothing back. Why? Because you’re CHOOSING to cancel instead of reschedule. This is honestly where things get yucky for us all.

COVID-19 and Weddings: What Are Your Rights as a Wedding Couple?

o'donnell house wedding reception entrance

This is why we’re all begging couples to reschedule, not cancel.

Case in point: I had a couple scheduled to be getting married during this crisis, and they decided to outright cancel all of the plans they’ve worked so hard on over the last year+. I’m not sure exactly how much they were spending, but – it was a lot, probably close to if not over six figures.

By canceling, they lost all of their booking retainers with their vendors and in some cases, all of the money paid.

All the hard work and plans got thrown away, never to come to fruition.

And they denied themselves the experience of a lifetime.

Although we legally didn’t have to give them any money back, Randy and I discussed it and asked each other what we’d want our photographer to do if the situation was reversed. We decided to refund them the last payment made, but we kept the booking retainer. And guess what? It sucks. Sucks for them, sucks for us, it literally sucks for everyone. There’s no joy for anyone at the end of the day.

Steamboat Springs Resort wedding

3.) You have the right to still get married.

What? Yes, you do. Absolutely. Just because there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean you can’t get married … it just means you shouldn’t get married right now.

If you were planning a BIG shindig and really don’t want to reschedule your date, you can always get married following the mandates of your city, county and state (some states, like California and New York, are under shelter in place ordersobviously don’t disobey those just to get married!). Some places are allowing outdoor ceremonies, with social distancing in place – like this one I shared about on my Facebook page (I didn’t take these photos, I just shared the post from the person who took them).

Getting married right now is like the ultimate “we refuse to change our date” mindset and not one I really support, personally. Given how insane and dangerous things are (with a forecast of even more in April), postponing your wedding celebration is the socially responsible thing to do.

Alternatively, if you’re going to forego the big wedding celebration and postpone, you can always change your wedding to an elopement in the near future, and you can livestream your ceremony (like we did with this gender reveal session). Technology at a time like this is amazing!

A final thought …

For what it’s worth, I feel for you guys trying to get married. I really do. My heart is broken for every couple who is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d want to give you guys all a huge hug and try to protect you from the hurt I know that is coming.

If there’s anything I can do to help – post it below. If you have questions, need advice or anything: I’m here for you!!