By STACI ZARETSKY
The height of wedding season is upon us, and while others are busy tying the knot, newly engaged couples are searching for venues, florists, photographers, and everything else that becomes part and parcel of a beautiful wedding day.
Planning the perfect wedding is all about the details — from the color palette and theme you choose to the number of layers in your cake. It’s so incredibly easy to get swept away in the whirlwind of wedding bells that most soon-to-be married couples forget about the most important part: the legal issues.
That’s right, brides, there’s more to think about than those blinged-out bridal shoe decals. Please stop Pinning things to your wedding Board and consider these useful legal tips for your upcoming wedding…
My wedding is this summer, and I’m marrying another lawyer, so thankfully we were meticulous enough to avoid many of the legal issues engaged couples may run into during the course of wedding planning. Others are not so lucky, and that’s where creative legal professionals swoop in to save the day.
For the purposes of this post, I spoke to Rob Schenk of WeddingIndustryLaw.com and asked him what soon-to-be married couples should really be worried about when planning their weddings — not that finding the perfect Pantone swatch for the design on your place cards isn’t of the utmost importance.
So what are the top three legal issues soon-to-be weds should be looking out for during wedding planning? I asked Rob for his opinion, and the problems he’s approached with most often have to do with vendor contracts, like problems with contracts that aren’t in writing, whether a couple will be able to get their deposits returned, and what happens when parents sign contracts instead of the engaged couple. Here’s his advice on what to do if you encounter one of these situations while planning your wedding:
- Get It in Writing. Some of the worst stories that I hear are from family members or friends of friends that offer their services “as a gift” or on the cheap, or fly-by-night vendors hired for crazy cheap off of Craigslist. Usually, there is a “gentleman’s agreement,” with nothing set in stone. Then, the worst happens. Pictures are lost, power cords are left back at the house, the cake tastes like doo-doo, or no one shows. Not only is a wedding one of the top five most important (and most expensive) events of your life, but it also happens to have several million moving parts. In other words, it’s a tempest of risk. When the agreement is simply a smile and a handshake, it is much more difficult to prove how a vendor breached. Only you and the vendor know what was discussed. Having your vendor’s contract in writing helps make everyone’s obligations clear, and when need be, provides the blueprint for the course of action when things go wrong.
- Getting Back a Deposit. Make sure that the contract is explicit about when and how (if at all) you get the deposit back in the event of postponement or cancellation. Just because it says “deposit” does not necessarily mean that it’s like a residential rental lease, i.e., you get the money back at some point. A “non-refundable deposit,” in legalese mumbo-jumbo, is referred to as a “liquidated damages clause,” meaning the client and vendor agree that such amount will make the vendor whole should the clients cancel (i.e., breach). Liquidated damages clauses are generally okay and will be held enforceable against a client, so you need to make sure of what you are signing. A liquidated damages clause will be held as unenforceable and ordered returned if the amount represents a “punishment” or is viewed as simply an incentive for the client not to breach. But remember the old Klingon proverb, “possession is 9/10s of the law.” When the vendor gets your money, he/she now sits in the catbird seat, even if the law is on your side. In other words, although the “non-refundable deposit” may be an unenforceable liquidated damages clause, you will have to do more than ask nicely to force the vendor to do anything. So, your best bet is to ask your vendor questions beforehand, and if something is unclear about what happens to the deposit money, make sure it gets sorted out and put into the contract.
- Parents Paying. Generally, in the law, the party that signs the service contract is the party to whom the service provider must listen. When your mom or dad pays AND signs, it places you in the position of a “third party beneficiary,” a legal no-man’s land and the subject of many law school exams. While you are to receive the services, you are not technically a party to the contract. Only in certain circumstances would you be able to sue the vendor based on breach of contract. Bottom line, if your mom signed the floral contract, and you and your mom disagree on what flowers go best with the puke-green bridesmaid dresses, the florist, most often, will be contractually bound to listen to your mom (even though it’s your wedding). Generally, you are best served by executing the contract yourself, and make it clear that the parents are only providing the money on your behalf. This way, the vendor is beholden only to you, not your parents.
Hopefully these words of wisdom will come in handy for you during the wedding planning process. Just remember, dealing with these legal issues will allow you to start your new lives on the right foot.