An Australian wedding celebrant directory recently emailed it’s members guilt-tripping them into keeping non-refundable deposits. What a guy.

Honestly, it made me sad to see them tell members to offer compassion and a refund.

Not because celebrants shouldn’t give refunds, honestly, celebrants should be able to do whatever they hell they like, I’m not your mum. But I was sad because I know how many of us have spent the last five to six months of our lives in a very fight for survival of our businesses. Part of that fight to survive is resting in the structure provided by your service contract.

It’s great when third parties to your business, for us it’s been parents, friends, clients, strangers on social media, all having opinions on whether people – including us – should refund because of COVID-19. It’s funny because these people are not parties to a service contract, they’re third party commentators with beautiful opinions, that honestly don’t mean a whole lot – the court of public opinion is a place where public relations staff work, but not us.

We form business relationships with our clients, those relationships include financial exchanges, service exchanges, possibly physical or digital product exchanges, and it’s all founded on a service contract, or if you don’t have one, then it sits on the basis of consumer law in your state. Opinion means nothing in that place. We have to rely on what the contract says.

We craft our service contracts, hopefully with friends like Hallet Law helping you out, to match our business plan, our revenue plan, our rest and relaxation plan. The legal underpinnings of your business actually liberate you to do all the parts of your business. That’s why you see bug companies take each other to court all the time, not because they’re all snowflakes with hurt feelings, but because that’s what the courts are for. We build our businesses on the basis that we can and do provide what we say in this contract, and if that changes – it often does – we take it to court and figure it all out.

People are asking for refunds

If you have clients, legitimate actual clients, who are asking for refunds, my not-a-lawyer advice to you would be to respond as per your service contract. If it says the deposit is refundable, refund it, if it says it isn’t, then don’t. This isn’t a COVID-19 issue, it’s a service delivery issue. If you and the couple are still able to fulfil your service contract, that is, you can all lawfully present at the time and place of the marriage ceremony and conduct a marriage ceremony, then your service contract still stands.

If you or the couple cannot present for the date, time, and place, contracted because of government imposed restrictions, then you’ve likely got yourself a frustrated contract then. Frustrated contracts release all parties from their contractual obligations, and the losses for all parties, lay as they fall.

If you personally can take the hit of refunding everyone, then that’s a beautiful and generous thing you are personally enabled to do, but it can’t be an expectation of the industry.

Personally, for my business, my generosity extends to all my couples, that when I and they can do a marriage ceremony, I’m there for them, no extra charge unless travel expenses are required. If I’m not available, that’s their cross to bear, and I’d encourage them to work with to find a date.

If the couple can be there, but their guests can’t, that’s not a breach of my service contract, maybe it is a breach of yours?

What if that isn’t good enough?

If none of these scenarios are accepted by all parties, you and the couple, then that’s why we have lawyers and courts, to figure out these issues. Being taken to court for a civil issue like this isn’t scary, and it shouldn’t be feared. It’s a normal process where both parties present their case calmly and clearly, and firstly a mediator will try to find a middle ground, you may offer a partial refund, if it’s only a deposit, maybe you offer nothing but a free re-schedule. From the mediator it goes to court, and someone smarter than us comes up with an answer.

Don’t fear the process, enjoy it, we have a law system for a reason, to rest into and to find peace in.

Can we talk about deposits for a moment

Recommended listening is our podcast episode about this whole topic, where Kathryn from Hallet Law recommends dropping the wording of a “deposit” or “non-refundable deposit” and changing it to a “booking fee”. Listen for the whole conversation and the justification.