Wedding Contracts: 8 tips to understand wedding paperwork

I have to admit, when my sister got married just over six years ago, she only signed one contract (with the venue), and, she never read a word of the contract. She was one of the lucky brides, who didn’t have to pay the price of not reading her wedding vendor contracts. In my knowledge, from working in the wedding business for the 16+ years, I have heard so many stories of brides who did have to pay that price, for not being diligent. That is not a fun memory to have of your wedding at all.

Now I’m on a mission to let couples know just how easy it is to know what’s in your wedding contracts so you are protected if anything should go wrong with your wedding vendors. Let’s break it down!

1. Why You Need Wedding Contracts

Wedding contracts serve a few purposes. They outline exactly what you’re receiving in goods or services, and what your vendor is receiving in payment, what the time-line is for that payment, and who is making the payment. Wedding contracts also protect you and your vendors legally in the long term, should you or your vendors not be able to follow through on what you agreed in the contract.

2. Wedding Contracts Don’t Work for Gifts

Wedding contracts are only valid or actionable if you are receiving goods or services in exchange for something, whether that’s money or another currency. Contracts aren’t going to do you any good for Aunt Sue who is making your wedding cake or Aunt Sally who said she would take care of the flowers and they’re both doing those jobs as gifts to you and your partner. If Aunt Sally and Aunt Sue are being paid but they are giving you a discount, though, keep in mind it’s better to have a contract that everyone can refer to so nothing gets lost in the shuffle, no matter how close you are to Aunt Sally and Sue.

3. If You Change the Contract, Get It in Writing

Especially with your DJ, venue, caterer, or florist, with whom, you will likely have lots of conversations over the course of your wedding planning. Even after the contract is signed, you might decide you want to add or subtract something from your original plan. Even if it’s a tiny thing, make sure you get that change approved by your DJ in writing, either by email or text, or by noting it on your original contract and having both parties initial the change.

When my brother got married last summer, he failed to do this and nearly had to pay dearly when he didn’t want the chair covers initially outlined in the contract. He had said this to the wedding planner on the phone, but the change was never made in writing. When venues are organizing three weddings each weekend for six months of the year, things can easily get lost in the shuffle, so you need to cover your bases by getting all those little tweaks and adjustments you make along the way in writing.

4. Keep a Printed and Signed Copy of Your Contracts

It’s only so easy to sit with your wedding vendors and sign a contract, but if a problem arises, you want your own identical copy of that contract in your hands as well. You don’t have to keep it in your purse, but put it away in a folder in case it’s needed later.

5. Watch for Non-Refundable Deposits and Retainers

When you’re reading your wedding contracts, make sure you watch out for which deposits and retainers are refundable and which aren’t. If you need to make a 50% non-refundable deposit to your photographer, you want to know that it’s non-refundable when you make that payment. For that one, there’s almost no going back without a cost. Many vendors will have non-refundable deposits and retainers to protect from cancellations that will keep them from getting business on that day – and they often go into effect from the moment you sign the contract and hand over the cash. If you decide to reschedule your wedding day or change your wedding location, you need to know exactly what that will cost.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on the small print that may mention any costs for changing your contract, especially with your venue. If you end up changing the date or details of your wedding, you’ll want to know what costs you’ll incur before you sign your contract. There may be small fees for adding or changing any details, and those can add up quickly.

6. Include Social Media and Copyrights in Your Contracts

As an online editor for a wedding magazine, we’ve run into this problem so many times in the last few years. When you sign your contract with your wedding photographer, make sure you completely understand what rights you have to your wedding images – and what rights your photographer retains. Most contracts contain a clause for the photographer to use your images in future advertising and even publishing. You might also run into clauses that give you only personal publishing rights and newspaper wedding announcement rights to your own wedding photography – that means you can’t sell or have your wedding photographs published or used online or in a magazine without express permission from the photographer.

And if you or your photographer or wedding planner is considering trying to get your wedding photos published, keep that in mind as you look at all the rest of your wedding contracts. The last thing you want is your makeup artist to share sneak peeks on her Instagram and then you’ve blown your exclusivity for the big wedding mags!

7. Don’t Be Scared by the ‘Act of God’ Clause

Your wedding contract should outline a whole slew of things, like the conditions of the contract, compensation and payment schedules, description of services, cancellation and change policies, and all the relevant dates involved for set-up and take-down. It will also likely include an ‘Act of God’ clause, which means the venue isn’t responsible for cancellation or refunds if there is a hurricane, flood, fire or war. This is standard and almost unavoidable language for most contracts. However, you might consider asking your wedding vendor to include in the ‘Act of God’ clause an expectation that the vendor will take all reasonable steps to reschedule the event at a later date.

8. When in Doubt, Ask Questions

Until you understand your wedding contracts fully, you shouldn’t sign them. Ask questions until you fully understand what you’re signing. No matter how silly or small your questions might be, you’ll feel much more protected with the added information than worrying about whether you might have signed something in error.

Wedding contracts are certainly the least romantic part of your wedding planning process, but our house, we often use the saying: the best offense is a good defense. If you’re faced with a crummy situation before or after your wedding, you want to have set yourself up as well as possible from the beginning. Crossing all those t's and dotting all those i's can be tedious but well worth it in the end!

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