What are my rights if I have to cancel a WEDDING CONTRACT due to COVID-19?
Planning a wedding during the pandemic is no small feat. Changing restrictions make it nearly impossible to finalize details. But a contract is legally binding, and most weddings involve various contracts with vendors like decorators, entertainment, catering, photography, and venues.
What happens when you have to cancel a wedding contract due to COVID-19? What are the legal implications of those wedding contracts when unforeseen events caused by COVID-19 disrupt wedding plans?
- Do I still have to pay the caterer if my wedding gets cancelled?
- Can I get my photography deposit back if my wedding is cancelled?
- Does our venue have to refund our deposit if our wedding is cancelled?
These are common questions today. So let’s look at some of your options.
What are my options when cancelling a wedding contract?
Throughout the wedding planning process, stay up-to-date with restrictions and policies wedding vendors have in place. We’re over 14 months into this unique situation, so wedding vendors are all too familiar with the uncertainty involved in every aspect of wedding planning.
When you have no other option but to cancel a wedding contract, start by negotiating with the vendor. Most are reasonable. They want your business, so candid conversation can go a long way. Some questions to ask or consider include:
- Would keeping the contract truly be unfeasible or illegal, or is it simply inconvenient or costly?
- Is it possible to merely delay the contract?
- Is it possible to make a substitution instead of completely cancelling the contract?
- Is the vendor willing to negotiate the terms?
Never make assumptions. Read your contracts carefully before signing them and ask questions before you sign so you understand the vendor’s policies about COVID-19-related changes.
Does a force majeure clause apply to COVID-19 and wedding contracts?
A “force majeure” clause generally excuses a contract party from the obligation to fulfill the contract when unforeseeable circumstances, beyond the control of either party, makes fulfillment of the contract impossible or significantly different from what was anticipated.
Examples of situations to which a force majeure clause applies include an “act of God” or government action or legislation changes that hinder contractual performance.
A force majeure clause only applies to your wedding contract if it is actually in the written contract. Typically, a contract containing a force majeure clause also lists specific events that are covered or, at least, contains broad terminology such as “other events beyond the reasonable control of the parties”.
To invoke the force majeure for your wedding cancellation, you must establish that COVID-19 meets the contract’s definition of force majeure and that COVID-19 sufficiently impacted contract fulfillment.
Some contracts detail degrees of impact required for applicability. For example, a lower standard might apply to a wedding delay, while a higher standard might apply to a wedding cancellation when COVID-19 has made it completely impossible.
Even if your wedding contract covers COVID-19-caused wedding cancellation, your right to a refund depends on the wording in the contract.
What if my contract doesn’t contain a force majeure clause?
Most wedding contracts indicate that the deposit is non-refundable. Some contracts contain provisions that waive the vendor’s liability for “frustrations” of the contract to prevent you from getting your deposit back. If such a clause does not exist in your contract, you are entitled to the return of your deposit upon request.
If your wedding contract does not contain a force majeure clause, the doctrine of frustration may apply. “Frustration” is when something makes fulfillment of the contract impossible or drastically different from what was agreed upon.
When it would be unjust to hold the parties to the contract because the original purpose of the contract has been undermined due to existing circumstances, the doctrine of frustration applies. Frustration does not happen merely because the contract has become more difficult to fulfill.
If the doctrine of frustration applies, both parties are released from their contractual obligations.
Cases involving frustration are determined by the courts.
What does Canadian law say about cancelling wedding contracts?
Over the past 14 months, Canadian law has changed on various issues to accommodate the effects of COVID-19. Several cases involving wedding cancellations have shown that Canada’s courts won’t easily accept COVID-19 as a valid reason to render a contract void.
In Bal v. Infinite Entertainment Sound and Lighting Inc., 2020 BCCRT 865, the court ruled that COVID-19 did not apply to the doctrine of frustration in this case. Even though the couple’s wedding was planned for March 29, 2020, and restrictions were announced earlier that month, the court found that the wedding entertainment contract could still be fulfilled if the couple reduced the attendance at their wedding.
In other words, if it’s still possible to have a wedding that honors the restrictions, even if it’s not what you wanted, Canadian courts seem to find that the contract can still be fulfilled. That said, contract cancellation cases are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Where can I get legal advice about cancelling a wedding contract?
Not all wedding contracts are enforceable, and a lot of contract terminology is ambiguous. Even if your wedding contract includes a force majeure clause, the nuances of the language can make applying it to your situation complicated.
The Corporate Commercial & Business Lawyers at Osuji & Smith can review your wedding contracts and advise you about your options. We can determine if you are entitled to receive a refund on your deposit, and we can help you make a claim based on a force majeure clause or the doctrine of frustration, if those apply to your situation.