As the Covid-19 Pandemic continues to escalate, Government restrictions have caused a raft of wedding cancellations in the UK and Ireland in the coming weeks and months. Wedding contracts between venues and the couple to be married are now commonplace. Ordinarily, these contracts will not come into dispute, however, in light of the ongoing crisis it seems inevitable that contract disputes will arise between these parties. Our aim is to explain the rights and obligations of both parties within wedding contracts and to give you a better understanding of where you stand if you have been affected by a wedding cancellation due to Covid-19.
The Venue’s Contractual Position
It is very likely that most wedding venues will now be unable to perform their obligations in a contract due to the government lockdowns that are being implemented and advanced on a daily basis. This will be gravely concerning to the betrothed couple who may well have already paid out significant sums of money to the venue as well as separate deposits for photographers, tailors and other necessities.
The first step to take for either party is to read their wedding contract carefully. From the perspective of the wedding venue who are unable to perform the contract it would be helpful if there was a Force Majeure clause within the contract. This is essentially a clause used in Contracts to protect against the consequences of an extraordinary event that could not reasonably be foreseen by either party. It is likely that the current global health crisis and government lock downs would trigger the Force Majeure clause in these contracts.
The presence of a Force Majeure clause places the venue in a contractually stronger position as the failure to perform their part of the contract may now be excused and they will not be in breach of the contract. The Venue would have to satisfy the Court that:
- The ‘event’ (Covid-19 and subsequent lock down) was outside of their reasonable control.
- That the ‘event’ prevented, hindered or delayed performance of the wedding contract.
- That the venue took all reasonable steps to avoid or mitigate the ‘event’ or its consequences.
The first two criteria will be easily satisfied in these circumstances. However, in relation to the third criteria the venue will most likely have to show the Court that it took some steps to avoid cancellation of the wedding. For example, whether alternative dates or discounts were offered. The fact that the ‘event’ has made performance of the contract more difficult or expensive for the venue, will not ordinarily be enough to satisfy the Court that ‘all reasonable steps’ had been taken.
The absence of a Force Majeure clause will place the venue in a contractually weaker position. Their failure to perform the contract can not now be excused by the pandemic. Moreover, a Court can not imply this clause into a contract because Force Majeure is not a right established in common law or statute.
The Couple’s Contactual Position
Again, the presence of a Force Majeure clause within the wedding contract will be critical in determining the couple’s contractual position. If this clause is present, then the couple are somewhat restricted in the action they can take against the venue. Although, even if a Force Majeure clause exists within the contract the venue will still have to take steps to attempt to perform the contract, such as offering alternative dates or concessions.
If there is no Force Majeure clause then the couple will be in a contractually stronger position. The venue will not be excused from non-performance of the contract. In these circumstances, couples could negotiate with their venue to get an alternative date that suits. If the venue is accommodating, then no further action is needed.
However, if a venue are being unreasonable or inflexible in their rescheduling of a wedding or seek to cancel the wedding outright then the couple will have grounds to take an action for breach of contract to recover any loss they have incurred as a result.
These measures are not particularly desirable for either party, but it is important to know where you stand contractually if a reasonable compromise can not be agreed, particularly if you have incurred significant financial loss.