Wedding Contracts – The Low Down: Do We Really Need Them?
Always Read The Small Print by Lisa Vassallo of Carmela Weddings
As a wedding planner with a law degree, I’m often asked about wedding supplier contracts from couples who are not always sure what they are signing! I always insist on checking and negotiating the contracts with couples I work with so I thought it might be useful to give you an insight into some of the issues you might run into when handed contracts by your suppliers.
The question I hear the most is Do I really need a contract for every supplier? The answer. Absolutely. I do realise it’s your wedding and that you might not want to be bothered by something as unromantic as a contract but to your suppliers, it’s simply a business transaction.
Sounds harsh but if you’re paying for it, sign a contract. If your supplier says they don’t have a contract, write one and get them to sign it. It doesn’t need to be huge but make sure it covers timings and states exactly what is being provided and how much you’ll be paying for it.
So what other supplier contracts do you need to think about and what do you need to look for in them?
You need to check pricing is clarified and that the contract states if this includes VAT (you’ll be surprised how many just add this on as an afterthought later!).
Make sure there is a clause about damages to be paid to you if something happens to the dress in the bridal shop’s care or if for any reason they can no longer get you the dress. There will be cancellation charges in there too – check you’re happy with them and negotiate them if you aren’t.
This is where couples have the biggest issues when it comes to the legalities of booking your venue – so it’s worth spending some time on this. For example many couples say that when they originally looked around the venue, their chosen date was free and so they were penciled in only to call back 3 months later and be told the date had been given to someone else.
Here’s what you need to know – a provisional booking isn’t legal. In theory, there’s an argument to be said that it was a verbal contract and so is legally binding, but the reality is this is way too hard to prove. Pay a deposit – once money has been exchanged you can prove the date is yours.
Oh, and don’t pay in cash for any deposits – paying on a card or through a bank transfer shows a paper trail, which will only ever be in your favour should any issues arise.
The next biggest issue for venues is weird clauses. One of my brides had signed a contract that she then realized said her wedding reception had to end at 8.30pm! Unfortunately not having read the contract or understood it is never going to cut it as an excuse in the eyes of the law.
However if the term in that contract is very unusual (a wedding reception that ends at 8.30pm could be seen as unusual) you could try to argue that the supplier should have made sure it was pointed out to you as such, otherwise it could be deemed an unfair term under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. It’s all based on reasonableness though, so better to check for those odd terms before signing.
When it comes to food, the biggest issue is always the numbers. So if you signed a contract for 100 guests and now you’re only having 80 you may well have to pay for those 20 that aren’t there. Check the small print in that contract.
Some venues and caterers have a minimum charge or guest number and if you’ve agreed to that in the contract, you will have to pay it. Saying that, I’ve known many venues and caterers that are happy to transfer the money (or some of it) to another service they supply; so they might use the money you’re paying for the extra 20 people on more drink or a better dessert.
It’s always worth asking if you can get something for that money, but it’s better to negotiate that contract before you sign anything.
This is the contract you need to pay the most attention to as there is so much detail to it. The biggest things to keep an eye out for are the amount of time you’re paying for, how many shooters will be at your wedding and who owns the copyright afterwards.
So for timings, if you want your first dance covered make sure it’s in the contract as if it’s not, your photographer is perfectly within their rights to leave when they see fit. For number of shooters – it will always be more expensive for two people to capture every angle of your day but if this is what has been discussed, it needs to go in the contract.
Lastly there is the confusing issue of copyright (who owns the images at the end). It is pretty standard for the photographer to own the images and for you to be buying copies of those images but if you want to own them, negotiate it before signing.
If you don’t own them, it is up to the photographer how and where they are used. It can work out cheaper to spend more to own the copyright so that your relatives can get copies rather than having to pay for every copy you want.
Students deserve a mention here – it’s really popular these days to let students photograph your wedding in exchange for them getting some practice. Having a photographer for free can’t be bad right, especially if they’ve signed a contract? Be careful here. For a contract to be legal and valid there has to be what is known as ‘consideration’ by both parties – you and the photographer.
This means both of you have to be giving something. He’s giving you photography services but you aren’t giving anything in exchange so no consideration = no contract. The consideration must have an economic value too. Basically if he doesn’t turn up on the day, there’s going to be nothing you can do about it.
A question I get asked a lot is ‘What is a force majeure clause’? Basically this means ‘Act of God’. It releases both parties from obligations under the contract due to something beyond their control but it has to be big (like a flood) rather than normal (like a traffic jam).
When it comes to all of your other suppliers such as cake maker, DJ and florist, although there are no big issues to watch out for you still need to give the contracts some attention.
Make sure all costs are written down, that the timings are on there and that the contract states what will happen should your supplier be ill (will they provide another person of a similar standard for instance). Look at the cancellation charges and make sure you are in agreement with them.
Remember, you are always in a position to negotiate them if you’re not happy – that’s what a contract is for!
I hope these tips helped but if you can only remember 3 things then remember these tips:
Never sign a contract you don’t understand!
Never sign a contract you can’t afford!
Never sign a contract under pressure – take it home, read it thoroughly and then decide!
Now, let’s get back to the romantic and fun side of weddings – moodboard anyone?
Lisa – Carmella Weddings
image credit: when he found her