When hiring a wedding vendor you should always, always, ALWAYS sign a contract.  But signing a piece of paper isn’t the whole story, you also should know what should be in a contract in order to protect yourself.

A contract is a legally binding document between two parties that details an agreement regarding a job or service.  A contract is there to protect not only the buyer (in this case, the bride and groom) but to protect the seller (wedding vendor) too.  All reputable wedding vendors should have contracts; if at any point in time during your wedding planning you are told “there’s no need for a contract” I suggest you turn around and run away as quickly as possible!  But more on why later…

There are many general points of what should be included in a wedding vendor contract and then there are more specific points that relate specifically to individual vendors.  As a Toronto wedding photographer, I know photography contracts inside and out – but I’m not a specialist when it comes to other vendors.  Please use this article as a guide, as a source of information that you can build upon.  If you’re weary of signing contracts (even after countless hours of research) I would highly recommend working alongside a wedding planner – a great wedding planner will help make the planning process a heck of a lot easier!  So without any further adieu…

What should be included in a contract:

  • Identification of the parties – This includes the names, addresses and all contract information of the signing parties (bride and groom) as well as the vendor.  A note to soon-to-be-weds: if your contract information changes during the course of your wedding planning, always ensure you keep your vendors up-to-date!
  • The date the service is being provided – Day, month and year – you can never be too specific.
  • The location where the service is being provided – Can be as specific as needed although typically a city is fine (some exceptions, based on vendors).
  • The timeframe (if applicable) the service is being provided – If you are expecting a vendor at a particular time, the start and end times must clearly be stated in the contract.
  • Service outline – A description of the services you are receiving; whether it’s A la Carte services or a packaged service.
  • Billing procedures and payment amounts – A deposit amount, final balance amount and any other payments should be clearly stated including the amount of each payment as well as the date the payment is due.  It is also wise to have methods of payment (cash, cheque, credit, etc.) included in the contract so that you are aware of your options.
  • Cancellation policies – These should be very detailed and include information about what happens to your deposit (are you refunded depending on which party cancels?) as well as information about your remaining balance – are you to pay a portion? is it void? details are your friend when it comes to cancellation policies!  Every small business operates differently in terms of their cancellation policies; but no matter how they operate, their policies should be clearly stated.
  • Signatures of all parties – The ‘buyer’ as well as the ‘seller’ should be signing.  Never ever sign a blank contract!
  • Changes (including adding services and at what price) – It’s inevitable that a bride or groom will need to make some kind of change during their wedding planning; whether this is extending the hours that their photographer is working or needing 100 more pieces of cake.  Always ensure the contract contains information about changing your services as well as makes reference to pricing of additional services.
  • Force Majeure – Used to protect the parties in the case that a portion or all of the services cannot be performed due to situations beyond the control of any of the parties – such as a natural disaster.
  • BONUS: Copyrights – When working with a photographer, always ensure that you are aware of the copyright status of the images created and are aware of any limitations there may be on the copyright.  (For example, my clients can reproduce their photos for their own personal use.  They cannot; however, sell images to stock websites or use them for commercial purposes.  This is an example of a copyright limitation.)

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So what happens if there is no contract?  If you’re giving someone your hard earned money without having signed a contract – you’re essentially running the risk of that person taking your deposit money and never providing the service.  And you know what?  I’ve seen it happen!  Many moons ago I had a couple make a ‘last minute deal over the phone’ with a transportation vendor.  They mailed off a cheque, the cheque was cashed and when their wedding day rolled around and they were expecting a classic car to pick up the bride from her house… no car ever came.  The bride was left taking a taxi to her ceremony and was never able to get a hold of that ‘vendor’ again.

So what’s the moral of the story?  Always sign a contract and always make sure that your contract contains the necessary details to keep you, as well as your investment, protected.