This July I had the unfortunate experience of helping a bride and her family handle the cancellation of her wedding - 6 days before the date.
It taught me a lot of great lessons - ones which I thought both couples and vendors could learn from - so I wanted to dive into this delicate, but real topic, and share some insight. Obviously one never wants to approach the planning of a wedding thinking about the worst-case scenarios. But whether one calls off a wedding due to cold feet or due to an act of God (hurricane, etc), those instances do sometimes happen - and it helps to be prepared.
The first is to have your contracts and vendor information organized. Have all signed contracts and vendor contact information in one easily accessible place so that you can review them and see what the next steps are - and so that you can easily pass that info on to someone else. Most likely, whatever the reason for the cancellation, you’re going to be dealing with a lot and there will be offers to help. Whether it’s your coordinator/planner, or a family member or friend stepping in to help alert vendors, it will make that transition as smooth as possible.
My main source of awe in this process was how many vendors didn’t have cancellation clauses in their contracts clearly outlining what they were to be paid in case of cancellation. Others had them but they were incredibly vague and confusing. It really surprised me. Because of this, some vendors lost out on the money they were expecting to be paid, while others had to negotiate with me and/or her father to figure out the next steps. Vendors - please oh please add a clear cancellation clause to your contract! And couples - please make sure all of your vendor contracts have a clear cancellation clause. If they don’t, ask for one to be added. The last thing you or your family will want to do if you’re dealing with the emotions of a cancellation is negotiate.
Unbeknownst to me, we also had one vendor who had never received a signed contract. Again, because of this, the vendor completely lost out on his payment (except the non-refundable deposit) - had the contract been signed, the cancellation clause would have been in place. Vendors - insist on receiving fully executed copies of your contracts! Refuse to move forward with a wedding until receiving the contract. Similarly, clients, understand that the reason vendors are asking for copies of these contracts signed is so that things are official and there is a legal document outlining services. Without a signed copy, the contract is worthless.
I also recommend to my clients that they purchase wedding insurance. Though even that may not cover ALL reasons for cancellation, it can help defray some of the costs should you need to delay or cancel your wedding. This could include loss of deposits, vendor no-shows, cancellation due to extreme weather conditions or acts of God, etc. I always tell couples that again - you don’t want to imagine it happening to you, but it does happen. A popular venue (where I actually hosted my husband’s 30th birthday party!) recently gained a lot of press because they shuttered unexpectedly, walking away with couples’ deposits and leaving them in the lurch with no venue. And let’s not forget all of the couples who lost big due to the hurricanes that hit our country recently. Wedding insurance is quite easy to purchase online from various sites such as wedsafe.com or wedsure.com (or just through your own insurance company). The couple hundred bucks is worth it for the peace of mind.
Finally, though this is somewhat off-topic, I wanted to mention cooperation clauses. Prior to this wedding, I’d never understood the need for cooperation clauses in contracts. As a planner, I couldn’t wrap my brain around someone who would engage my services and then not show up for meetings, or not respond to emails. But one of the first signs that this wedding was going to be cancelled was that the bride and groom stopped responding to my emails in a timely manner, didn’t show up for meetings, and weren’t available for phone dates we’d scheduled. Had I had the cooperation clause in my contract, I could have rightly ended things right there. Instead, I was forced to continue to TRY and do my job, despite not having any information or details on the wedding. So vendors - add it to your contract. And couples - don’t be offended if you see it in a contract!
No one wants to imagine the worst when you’re imagining one of the happiest days of your life. But as a down-to-earth planner, I’ll be the first to tell you that marriage is all about how you handle the bad and the good times. If you take these small extra precautions, those bad times won't feel quite so bad - and you'll be quickly back on your feet to start working towards the good.