Wedding's called off, but clients not releasing me from contract

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by pavl_kay, Jul 18, 2016.

  1. Hello friends:
    I'm contracted to photograph a wedding on July 31, 2016, for clients that retained my services in December 2015. In early June, the bride-to-be contacted me stating that the wedding, as initially planned, is no longer happening. According to her, they decided to elope in Las Vegas in the autumn. Despite this, she advised me that they'd be throwing a large party at their home to celebrate the occasion and would like me to photograph it. The party was scheduled for the original wedding date, so nothing changed on my end.
    Last week, the bride sent an email stating that the wedding has been "called off" and they'd like their deposit returned. I was curious to know if they'd called it off entirely and they wouldn't be eloping in Vegas or whether this was an attempt to save their substantial retainer while still going forth with the plan she outlined in her June email. However, I decided not to ask for clarification because what mattered was clear: they didn't want me there and wanted their money back.
    My contract regarding the nature of my retainers is crystal clear and stated firmly; they're absolutely non-refundable. (But this isn't the issue at hand.) I replied to her message stating that their retainer is non-refundable because I have turned down several other inqueries for this date, and advised her that she must formally release me from our agreement by completing my wedding cancellation/rescheduling form, which I attached. One week and two messages later, and I haven't heard a peep from either her or the groom.
    Without receipt of the cancellation form that releases me from our initial agreement, I'm bound to assume that my services are still required. (I'll give them a call tomorrow to confirm what's going on, but the call doesn't change that I need a written release.)
    I'm seeking advice for the worst-case scenario: what should I do if they remain quiet and unreachable all the way up to their wedding day? The contract states that the location of the wedding is at a small hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but doesn't state the time. If everything was cancelled, as per her June email, then the party is at their home in Toronto (close to my neighbourhood, actually). Which would have precedence? Which should I be prepared to drive to, and at what time, if I'm to fulfill my end of the agreement by making a good faith attempt to photograph an event that I'm no longer certain is happening?
    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. If you're going strictly by the contract, go to the contracted location. If you're going by emails as being able to affect the contract, you should probably go to the last place your emails said you should go.
    All that said, if your retainer is non-refundable, then it is non-refundable. Period. Your contract should definitely be reviewed by an attorney, but this should give you reason to modify your contract for future weddings and include verbiage which states you are no longer obligated to fulfill the contract in the event it is breached by the client's refusal to pay scheduled payments (or something to that effect).
    If your goal is to make them pay the entire balance due because they haven't cancelled the contract, then show up in good faith at the contracted location and get confirmation in writing from the venue that the wedding is not there. Then you can decide whether or not to go after them for the entire balance of the contract. This might be something worth telling them if you are going to call them. Their choice is either to sign the cancellation agreement and only lose the retainer, or be liable for the entire contract amount.
     
  3. "Their choice is either to sign the cancellation agreement and only lose the retainer, or be liable for the entire contract amount."
    Don't assume a court will enforce the latter part when there has already been a clear repudiation of going forward already. If the contract is just as "crystal clear" that the form has to be filled out, to effectively cancel, that might help but don't count on it. Your best position will be if the contract is "crystal clear" that you can't start mitigating and looking for other work until the form is done. Even that might not fly. These forms are CYA worthy when signed but too often not final dispositions when they are not. Trying to use them can put oneself in a predicament. A contract that says any written or electronic notice by the client indicating that the services are to be canceled or no longer desired will trigger the retainer/liquidated damages clause and release the photographer from any duty to shoot the event is sufficient and doesn't require chasing after people for speculative results.
     
  4. My goal is to figure out where I'm supposed to be and at what time in order to fulfil my end of the deal if the couple doesn't contact me with details or a written release before their wedding date.
     
  5. My goal is to figure out where I'm supposed to be and at what time​
    You know the location of the wedding - so why not contact the venue and find out if a wedding is scheduled for the day on question - and if it is for the party you have a contract with?
     
  6. Contact a lawyer in the jurisdiction. This is no place to get legal advice. It is worth a legal bill to get some
    representation and to get you out of the middle. A letter from a lawyer has some weight.
     
  7. I'm seeking advice based on your experiences, not legal
    advice. I'm not sure about where you live, buy lawyers aren't
    cheap here, and it's a horrible waste of my resources to refer
    to a lawyer regarding one wedding.
     
  8. You have to choose the hill you want to die on with respect to getting legal with this. I am actually dealing with something similar today, where the client completely disappeared and was avoiding me. When I called him from a different number he picked up, asked who was calling, and when I told him, he exclaimed the F word and hung up. It wasn't until I sent him a text message saying "Look, if you don't cancel the contract and sign the addendum, I am contractually obligated to show up to your wedding. Is that what you want?" He signed the addendum.
    Like Dieter suggested - contact the venue and see if the wedding is on. If it is, tell the bride you will be showing up unless she signs the agreement.
     
  9. There's always the telephone! Can you call them or the hotel and see if the couple is booked there? Seems way too easy
    for me to get this figured out.

    On my contract I have the parents names and phone numbers listed as well as the couples.
     
  10. I'm seeking advice based on your experiences, not legal advice.​
    I'm almost certain that this is not true. Unless you have a reasonable fear that your email communication was with someone pretending to be the bride, you have all the information you need about the non-legal aspect of this situation. When I started reading your OP, I expected that you were going to ask us the important non-legal question: What can I do to keep this couple as happy as is practical? But you know the answer to that question: Their silence is a clear indication that they don't want to have anything to do with you any more. That leaves only legal question(s).
    ... and it's a horrible waste of my resources to refer to a lawyer regarding one wedding.​
    This is also not true. "What do I do about this particular customer now?" would be part of what you would talk with a lawyer about, but you need to use that question as way to have a concrete discussion with your lawyer about how your contract can be improved. You want to be sure that you will not be in such an ambiguous situation in the future. The fact that your current contract is not working for you means that your consultation will be primarily about making all your future wedding gigs happy events for both you and your clients.
     
  11. What's the big deal?
    You were contacted by the client and released from the contracted agreement. That they also asked for a refund reinforces the finality of the release.
    Print out their e-mail, attach a letter stating clearly that based on their e-communication you will not be showing up anywhere on the wedding date, and send it as a registered letter.
     
  12. Doug's advice is excellent. Your contract doesn't make things clear with respect to cancellation so it's worth every penny to have it reviewed by a qualified attorney with experience in this area.
     
  13. Look. I have a lawyer and a good one. He would probably charge me a couple of hundred bucks to compose and
    send a letter stating your contractual rights and possibly prevent further action by the client. It will save you trouble in
    the long run and may prevent further demand from the client. I speak from experience having had my own photo
    business. You know the old saying --He who is his own lawyer-------------.
     
  14. Hopefully youve come to a resolution to your issue since the date has passed.

    1. What did the original contract say about cancellation?

    2. Was the "Release" a part of the original agreement?

    3. Why do YOU need to be released?

    The agreement made between you and your client were for certain services or a certain day. The client canceled the
    need for those services. The contractual agreement ends at that point. End of Story. Unless there is some weird clause
    within the original contract referring to this "release'" you dont need to be released. The breach releases you. Basic
    contract law.

    In the specifics you mentioned, they breached and you keep the deposit. If they want you for a different event, i.e., the
    reception, thats a new agreement. If YOU CHOOSE, you could just do the reception since you did block that day out.
    But would be your option. You wouldnt be required. But then comes the question, would your fee for the reception be
    the same as you would have charged for the wedding? Would they be expectly a cheaper price.

    Advice: Get rid of this release in your process. It serves you no real advantage. Once the original agreement ends or
    is breached, nobody needs to be released.
     
  15. Well, did you call the venue or end up going?
     

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