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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
HOWEVER … What 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.
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.
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 orders – obviously 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).
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!
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!!