Getting married can be an exciting–but costly–experience. According to data from the Knot, the typical couple spent $19,000 to get married in 2020, down from $28,000 the previous year. Using wedding services contracts can help to avoid wasted or lost money if you’re planning to stick to a strict wedding budget. Before signing a contract with a wedding vendor, it’s important to understand what may be included and how to read the fine print.

Wedding services contracts can help you to set realistic expectations regarding the services a vendor will provide and what you’ll pay for them.
Vendors may build clauses into wedding services contracts that require you to meet certain obligations or responsibilities, so it’s important to read through them carefully.
You may need to sign multiple contracts for wedding services with different vendors, each of which creates a different set of obligations.
Maintaining records of communications with vendors will help you if a dispute arises over the terms of a wedding services contract.

A wedding services contract is a document that specifies the terms under which wedding services are to be provided. When planning a wedding, you may work with a number of vendors that require you to sign a contract for wedding services, including:

Entertainers (i.e. DJ, band, singer, etc.)
Transportation services
Wedding planners

You may also need to sign contracts with the wedding venue and the reception venue. Like other types of contracts, these are legally binding once both parties sign and agree to the terms. The purpose of this type of contract is to protect both the vendor and the person contracting wedding services.

You may want to steer clear of vendors who don’t use wedding services contracts or refuse to agree to any terms in writing.

Wedding services contracts can include a variety of information that’s specific to the vendor and the services they’re providing. This information may be broken down into sections or clauses, and it’s important to read through each one carefully to understand what you’re agreeing to. Here are some of the most common clauses you may find in a wedding services contract.

This section is one of the most important to read in a contract for wedding services. It’s where the vendor should spell out exactly which services they’ll provide to you, how those services will be provided, and when.

For example, if you’re signing a wedding contract with a photographer, you may want the contract to specify:

How many hours they’ll spend at the wedding and reception
The number of photos they’ll take
The number of photos that will be included in the final package
When you’ll meet to select photos
How retouching or editing will be handled
When the final set of wedding photos will be delivered to you

The more detail there is, the better for you because it minimizes the potential for gray areas or misunderstandings.

It’s not uncommon for wedding vendors to ask for a deposit at the time you sign the contract. The deposit may be a flat fee or a percentage of the vendor’s total cost. What’s most important to understand here is how much you’re paying and whether that deposit is refundable or not.

When a wedding doesn’t go ahead because of bad weather, a disagreement between the spouses-to-be, or even a global crisis, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back. In New York State, for example, wedding vendors can set whatever refund or cancellation policy they choose. You should read this section carefully and ask the vendor to clarify any terms you don’t understand.

Look for the term “force majeure” in the contract, as this can allow a contract to go unfulfilled without penalty in situations that are beyond either party’s control.

There are different reasons for needing to postpone a wedding. In the 2020 Knot study, for example, 32% of couples opted to marry but push back the reception because of the situation. In some cases the wedding may need to be canceled altogether, or you may decide you no longer want to work with a certain vendor.

When reading through a wedding services contract, look for a section or sections covering postponement, cancellation, and termination. Specifically, look for:

Cutoff dates for canceling or terminating services
Acceptable reasons for postponing, canceling, or terminating services
What you’re required to do to postpone/cancel/terminate the contract, such as making a written request
Terms relating to the return or reimbursement of deposits and other fees paid

When reviewing a wedding services contract, pay close attention to the fees and charges involved. Your vendor may offer one total cost, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for an itemized list of all fees and charges.

For example, are you expected to make payments toward the total on a regular schedule? Is there a penalty fee if you pay late? Will you pay a fee to postpone, cancel, or terminate the contract? Will the venue apply overage charges if your ceremony or reception goes over the allotted time?

Also, be on the lookout for sneaky or surprise fees. For instance, the vendor who’s making your wedding cake might charge a separate fee to slice it. Your photographer may expect you to cover their travel expenses to and from the venue. And keep in mind that catering staff may still expect to be tipped, on top of the fee you pay for catering services.

Charging wedding expenses to a credit card can give you a paper trail in case any charges need to be disputed later.

Planning a wedding can involve a large investment of your time and money, it’s important to do your due diligence. These tips can help you avoid wedding services contract scams when planning the big day.

Research the vendor–Before signing a contract with a vendor, check their ratings with the Better Business Bureau. Also, look online for consumer reviews from couples who have used their services, to ensure that they’re legitimate and trustworthy.
Check registrations–Investigate whether the vendor is legally registered to do business in your state. A state’s department of consumer affairs should also be able to tell you if any complaints have been registered against the vendor.
Be wary of unusual requests–If a vendor does something that seems out of the ordinary, such as requesting that you wire money to a third party, trust your instincts. If the vendor seems off, that could be a red flag that they’re not a legitimate business.

You could also get an attorney to review the terms of a wedding services contract before you sign. This can involve paying a fee, but if you’re funding an especially expensive wedding, it may be worth it to ensure that you fully understand the contract’s terms and conditions.

If you find provisions in the contract that you wish to change, you always have the option to try to negotiate specific terms with your wedding vendors. This can help ensure that you end up with a contract with which you are satisfied.

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