March 14th, 2019

Pennsylvania Wedding Law

The (I) Dos and Don’ts of Pennsylvania Wedding Law

There are few periods of a romantic relationship as hectic as wedding planning. From the time she (or he) says yes, until you finally say “I do”, you and your significant other will contractually commit to anything from a wedding venue to an ice sculpture, and everything in between. Wedding planning is meant to be a time when lifelong dreams are made into realities and knowing what to look for in your wedding agreements can help those best laid plans from turning into nightmare fuel.

While your significant other may beg to differ, there is nothing particularly special about the contracts you sign leading up to your wedding: to be enforceable they must comply with Pennsylvania contract law. What makes the wedding contract unique is what surrounds it – the pressure to get the perfect venue, the must-have photographer, or that florist you’ve been following on Pinterest for 5 years – and wedding vendors/venues can use this emotion to their advantage to get you to agree to terms to which you wouldn’t under any other circumstances.

Following these simple principles of contract law can help you know when to say “I do” or “I don’t”:

  • Don’t get stuck with an Adhesion Contract – An “adhesion contract” is one that you sign without the value of a bargain, and often under duress. So what does that mean? If a vendor or a venue says that you have to sign a contract as it is written, take-it-or-leave-it, without giving you the ability to negotiate terms that are clearly written to benefit them, it may be an adhesion contract. Take an adhesion contract and combine it with the stress of the first-come-first-serve reality of wedding planning, and those one-sided contract provisions maybe unenforceable.
  • Gone with the windfall – For more than a century in Pennsylvania, it’s been the law that a contract cannot be worth more cancelled than if completed. By way of example, a venue cannot arbitrarily charge you a penalty for cancelling your wedding just to deter you from cancelling. In Pennsylvania, if you cancel your wedding, the wedding venue would only be entitled to the profit they could have reasonable expected to make on your event. Under no circumstances can a wedding venue or vendor make more money from your cancellation than they would have if you fulfilled the contract. This means that contracts cannot contain arbitrary damage penalties, and a venue/vendor cannot collect damages on your cancelled event, and then re-book your date and make double the profit (more on this later). Also, Pennsylvania courts have held that it is venue/vendor’s duty, not yours, to prove their damages clauses are reasonable.
  • Not so Non-Refundable Deposits – A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but a penalty by any other name is just as unenforceable. “Non-refundable deposits” are a great example of terms found in adhesion contracts and are often penalties masquerading as damages clauses. Few wedding vendors/venues will let you book the date without putting money down. But just because you put money down doesn’t mean you can’t get it back. If that “non-refundable” deposit isn’t reasonably calculated to anticipate the vendor’s damages, it could be an unenforceable provision and you may be able to get it back.
  • If they don’t mitigate you can litigate. Regardless of whether it’s written into your wedding contracts or not, if you cancel on a vendor/venue they have a duty to take reasonable steps to “mitigate” their damages. This often means that they have to make some attempt to re-book the date. Unlike damage provisions, the pressure is on you to show that they haven’t attempted to mitigate their damages. The concept of mitigation works to protect you in several ways: Firstly, if they re-book the date and make the same amount of profit, you could be off the hook. Secondly, if they re-book the date but make less profit than they would have if you hadn’t cancelled, it could reduce what you owe.
  • Know what you’re worth. While the language of a contract can be confusing, it’s important to read it thoroughly to understand your obligations. In Pennsylvania, contracts are limited to the words on the page. So just because you talked about using the venue’s in-house catering service, doesn’t necessarily mean your contract obligates you to do so or that the venue can reasonably expect the same when determining its damages.

It’s easy to get lost in the sea of legal jargon that makes up a typical wedding contract. That’s why it’s important to consult an attorney to help you navigate the storm. Often an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a relatively small amount of money spent having an attorney experienced in Pennsylvania wedding law review your wedding contracts prior to signing could save you thousands on the back end.

After all, who wants to bargain for the cancellation provision in your wedding contracts in front of your fiance? Have a lawyer do it for you. And, if  unthinkable happens or plans just change, often the difference between getting back that “non-refundable” money and fending off unreasonable damages comes down to your understanding of the law. So unless you’re like my wife and you were lucky enough to marry an attorney, before you let a vendor/venue push you around, add a lawyer to your wedding party.

Attorney Nicholas Sandercock is an experienced attorney and litigator. He works with individuals and wedding industry professionals to ensure they understand their risks and obligations, including representing them in court actions.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.