An attorney and wedding planner tell PEOPLE what it takes to get your money back

By Rachel DeSantis and Mackenzie Schmidt
April 15, 2020 01:36 PM
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Planning a wedding can be hard work — even without a global pandemic putting an abrupt halt to carefully laid plans likely put in place months in advance.

With the coronavirus looming, many couples planning to tie the knot in the coming months are left with one major question: now what?

From venues to vendors, the average cost of a wedding is upwards of $30,000, according to WeddingWire. When it comes to ensuring as much of that money as possible lands back in your bank account, experts tell PEOPLE that much of the outcome hinges on contracts you’ve already signed.

For example, thanks to contract terms, if a couple has cold feet and calls off their wedding, the repercussions are more stringent than if, say, a hurricane were to blow through town, says Leah Weinberg, owner of event planning company Color Pop Events.

“In the event of a force majeure-type event, depending on the type of vendor and the specific contract terms, the client may be able to get all of their money back,” she says, noting that a “force majeure” cancelation is one attributed to severe weather events, a change in laws, Acts of God, etc.

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Weinberg says that the coronavirus outbreak has triggered contract provisions for many spring events, but that most are being handled on a case-by-case basis, in which some vendors are keeping their deposits and not requiring any final payments, and others are providing full refunds.

Couples should also consider thinking about postponement dates, as contracts won’t be rescinded simply because of a force majeure event, says Virginia-based attorney Caroline Fox.

Fox advises couples who postpone to sign a contractual amendment in which both parties agree to the change in date, and says that many couples will be able to recover fees by recouping costs as transferrable costs that’ll be applied to the new date.

“Couples can’t postpone indefinitely and expect their vendors to hang on for them,” adds Weinberg. “But with the majority of vendors I have been working with on postponements, they are all carrying over their existing contract provisions to a new date.”

Fox also advises checking on insurance policies, and “pushing back” if you’re denied by an insurance company.

Per policies, contracts and what may result in a refund, Fox advises thinking about things in terms of what has been done and what hasn’t, and to consider timing. If you booked last year, your vendor will likely have done a lot more work than if you booked last month.

“In a situation regarding a product-plus-a-service like florals, the florist may have done a bunch of work on design work and in-person meetings,” Fox explains. “Compare this to a transportation company, who may not have done any upfront ‘work’ aside from performing the actual booking process. A full refund is more likely in a situation where there has been no ‘behind-the-scenes’ work.”

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As of right now, a lawsuit is the only option for couples whose vendors may refuse refunds in spite of government mandates, Fox says.

Adds Weinberg, “If a couple feels the terms aren’t clear, then they really should consult an attorney to determine what their position should be. And same for vendors.”

As the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent consequences are entirely new territory, both experts emphasize the importance of compromise, and stress that flexibility will be key for both couples and vendors.

“In many cases, their wedding vendors are small businesses or solopreneurs. They aren’t huge companies with deep pockets,” says Weinberg. “Having a couple demand money back when it’s not allowed for by the contract terms is a terrifying position for those vendors to be in. I am a big believer that open, honest and straightforward communication is going to be the way to solve a lot of conflicts that are coming up.”

Meanwhile, Fox reminds couples seeking money back that they’re likely not the only ones having financial issues, and that they should be patient.

“If too many of a business’ clients demand immediate refunds in full, a business may fold and declare bankruptcy — leaving no one with a refund,” she says.

While having to watch what should be your wedding date pass you by can be difficult, Weinberg offers a gentle reminder that it’s okay to be upset.

“For couples whose weddings have been impacted, they should know that it’s okay to be sad or bummed out about not having their wedding as originally planned,” she says. “The world is grieving the loss of a lot of things right now, and the loss of the wedding you planned on the date you planned it is a valid loss.”