Theresa asks:

I’ve had a couple of last-minute cancellations recently – given the circumstances, I’m happy that the weddings didn’t go ahead. Anyhow, it has forced me to take a much-needed look at my T&C’s and was wondering if either of you would be open to sharing how you deal with the following scenarios/what you have in your invoices or statement of fees: 1. Cancellations, 2. The unlikely event that you are unavailable and need to arrange someone else to step in, 3. The unlikely event that you are unavailable and cannot find anyone else to step in.

This is such an important conversation Theresa, from conversations I have with many celebrants, not all of us are signing a lawyer-written service contract with our clients.

I highly value my service contract, not only because it protects me, but it also protects my clients, and it creates a framework for our relationship and what expectations each of us can safely place on it.

My own service contract is signed by each couple engaging with my services, and it was prepared by my lawyer. As such, the contract itself is the intellectual property of my lawyer and I’m not at liberty to let you copy it. However I can certainly recommend my lawyer – though having only ever engaged a single one I can’t really tell you if he’s better or worse than others – but more importantly I can recommend that you engage with a lawyer for service contract preparation.

You’re welcome to peruse the contract, it’s publicly available on my website, but I’ll highlight some of my favourite sections through this article.

Cancellations

Before you talk about cancelling, you need to talk about starting, and we start by signing a service contract together and defining what that means:

Any instructions received by Josh Withers from the Couple for the provision of the Services constitutes acceptance of these Terms and Conditions. Where more than one Party has entered into this Contract, the Couple will be jointly and severally liable for all payments of the Price. On acceptance of these Terms and Conditions by the Couple, the Terms and Conditions are irrevocable and can only be rescinded in accordance with these Terms and Conditions or with the written consent of Josh Withers.

Then we look at the two types of cancellations, when the couple cancel and when I cancel.

The Couple can cancel the Contract at any time by giving written notice to Josh Withers. If the Couple cancel the Contract, for any reason whatsoever, less than six months before the Ceremony Date, the Couple will be liable to pay Josh Withers the Price.

So if they cancel within six months of the ceremony date they still owe me the total fee. I generally don’t police this unless they give me hell.

If the Couple cancel the Contract, for any reason whatsoever, more than six months before the Ceremony Date, the Couple will be liable to pay Josh Withers an amount equal to 50% of the Price.

If they cancel more than six months out, depending on how their invoice payments are going, either I owe them half their fee back, or they owe me 50% of the invoice.

Josh Withers can cancel the Contract at any time by giving written notice to the Couple.

If I’m going to cancel, and I’ve only done this three times, I ring them first, but tell them that I’ll put it in writing for them as well.

If Josh Withers cancels the Contract then all monies paid will be refunded to the Couple.

The only time this is not the case is in if I cancel due to clause 6.1 which states that I have explained to them the legal requirements for entering into a marriage. If they do not meet the legal requirements of marriage, including the notice of intent, ID, divorce paperwork, and consent.

On the day timing

In providing the Services, the Couple acknowledge and agree that Josh Withers is only required to attend at the Ceremony for a minimum of one hour and a maximum of two hours unless otherwise agreed in writing … endeavour to attend at the Ceremony at least 30min prior to the Ceremony Time and will leave no earlier than 30min following the Ceremony Time … reserves the right to leave the Ceremony 30min after the Ceremony Time if both or either of the Couple have not arrived or the Ceremony cannot proceed for any reason outside of Josh Withers’ control. In these circumstances, the Couple forfeit all monies paid to Josh Withers.

I tell my couples that I endeavour to be at their ceremony an hour before their ceremony start time and will be available to them for an hour following, but that will be me over-delivering on my contract.

Unable to perform the ceremony

If Josh Withers is unable to perform the Ceremony in accordance with this Contract, for any reason whatsoever including due to an unforseen accident and/or injury, Josh Withers will advise the Couple as soon as practicable and make reasonable arrangements for another celebrant to perform the Ceremony.

Ultimately I have been contracted to do a job, so I agree to make reasonable arrangements. Reasonable is a beautiful legal word.

If I experience mechanical or travel issues, I agree to refund the fee minus the deposit, which is $700, but I will not accept liability for wedding plans going to hell because of my travel problems. I’ll also cover the costs of either me getting there or another celebrant getting there.

If Josh Withers experiences any unforseen obstacles on his way to the Ceremony including by way of example only (and not limited to) traffic jam, mechanical problems, car accident, cancelled flight etc then Josh Withers will make all reasonable efforts and incur the reasonable costs for alternative travel arrangements in order to attend the Ceremony. In these circumstances, if Josh Withers is unable to attend the Ceremony, then Josh Withers will: Notify the Couple as soon as reasonably practicable; Not be liable for any loss or damage, including any consequential loss of damage; and Refund the Price, less the Deposit, to the Couple.

Payment

There are two important notes regarding money for me. The first is locking in the date. No-one gets a space on my calendar, not even a “pencilling in” without a deposit:

The Services will not be secured until the Deposit is paid in full and the signed Contract is returned to Josh Withers.

Then once the deposit is paid, I require final payment:

The Price (including any variations) must be paid to Josh Withers on the earlier of: Four months after the Contract is signed and returned; or thirty days prior to the Ceremony Date specified in the Contract.

That’s right, if you book me today, the 19th of November 2019, and you’re getting married on the 26th of February 2020, then your deposit is due today, and the invoice is due on the 26th of December 2019, but if you’re getting married on the 26th of February 2021

What if they don’t pay?

If the Price is not received within the timeframe specified, Josh Withers may cancel the Contract by giving written notice to the Couple and retain the Deposit and all other monies paid to Josh Withers by the Couple.

What if it gets to the wedding day and they still haven’t paid but I haven’t cancelled yet?

Josh Withers is under no obligation to provide the Services (or any part thereof) until the Price is received.

Changing wedding details

The first step in the relationship is asking them to tell me if something changes.

If Party 1 and/or Party 2 propose a change to the Ceremony Details (as specified in the Contract), then Party 1 and/or Party 2 must notify Josh Withers of such change in writing.

And how should I respond?

In these circumstances, Josh Withers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate such change. However, if the new details conflict with Josh Withers’ prior commitments then Josh Withers may cancel the Contract and retain the Deposit. If the Contract is cancelled under this clause 5.1 less than six (6) months from the Ceremony Date specified in this Contract, the Couple will either: forfeit the Price, if already paid; or be liable to immediately pay Josh Withers the Price, if not already paid.

What if the changes are last minute due to weather?

If the Ceremony is to be changed to an alternative venue for any reason whatsoever including due to inclement weather, then Party 1 and/or Party 2 must notify Josh Withers of such change as soon as possible by telephone to ensure that he has sufficient time to travel to the alternative venue. Josh Withers will not be held responsible for any delays in the Ceremony Time due to such change.

The legalities of marriage

I wanted to ensure that the burden of Marriage Act compliance was on the couple as well:

The Couple agree that Josh Withers has explained to them the legal requirements for entering into a marriage. The Couple warrant to Josh Withers that: They fully understand the legal requirements for entering into a valid marriage; and they are legally able to marry each other. The Couple agree to: Complete and provide to Josh Withers a Notice of Intended Marriage within the timeframe required by law. Provide Josh Withers with all original documentation requested no less than fourteen (14) days before the Ceremony Date including any accredited translation documentation requested by Josh Withers. If the Couple fail to provide all requested documentation to Josh Withers within the specified timeframe, Josh Withers is under no obligation to provide the Services and may cancel the Contract. In these circumstances, the Couple will forfeit all monies paid to Josh Withers.

The creative part, the ceremony

It’s really hard to contractually form a creative relationship, but I wanted to put a deadline on the couple providing input, feedback, and expectations:

Communicate all of their expectations to Josh Withers regarding the Ceremony no later than twenty-one days before the Ceremony Date.If the Couple fail to provide any such details to Josh Withers within the specified timeframe, all decisions regarding the content of the Ceremony will be left to the sole discretion of Josh Withers.