Damage Control: How to Cancel a Wedding

Unfortunately, not all engagements lead to a walk down the isle. Sometimes the wedding is called off, and the bride and groom need to work quickly to control the damage. Marcy Blum, wedding and event planner, provides six steps to ensure a wedding’s cancellation goes as smoothly as possible.

1. Let your guests know as soon as possible.

If your wedding is called off after the invitations are mailed and time is running short before the planned date, then you–or a friend or a family member–must pick up the phone and call each guest to inform them of the cancellation.

If time allows, it is also acceptable to send an announcement. It should be a simple printed card that says the wedding will not take place. No details necessary!

2. Get back your money.

While the emotional trauma of canceling a wedding always outweighs its financial repercussions, there are still lots of money-related tasks that need to be taken care of–and fast.

As soon as you know the wedding is off, let all your vendors know.

Even if you terminate early, most wedding contracts stipulate that a deposit will not be refunded. Generally speaking, though, if vendors can rebook the date, they will return most, if not all, of your money. But if your vendors are unable to rebook the space, or, if in the case of a dress or event designer, they have spent much money or time on your wedding, they are obligated to refund only what they deem appropriate.

Your best bet is to rely on the sympathy of your suppliers rather than take an argumentative or confrontational tone when you ask about the possibility of a refund.

Traditionally, wedding insurance only covers situations that are out of the bride’s and groom’s control. Some policies do cover a “change of heart,” but in those cases, there are limits for how much insurance companies will reimburse you. And to claim those funds, you must also prove that you were the person that was dumped and left, as they say, “stranded.”

3. Gifts have to go back, too.

All gifts, from toasters to flatware, should be sent back to the giver. The returned espresso machine doesn’t need an in-depth explanation, just a note saying that, under the circumstances, you can’t accept this lovely gift. If, as is increasingly the case, you have already used the gift, you must send an identical replacement or its monetary equivalent.

4. Yes, the ring should be returned to the purchaser.

Of course, this is the crucial issue. Does the bride really have to give back that gorgeous rock? Hundreds of court cases have been tried on this subject and produced varied verdicts. Some judges ruled that the “donor” gets to keep the ring; others decided that it depends on who broke off the engagement.

Personally, I agree with Jennifer Lopez, who returned a 6.1-carat pink Harry Winston ring to Ben Affleck in 2004. It doesn’t matter what the legal system says; propriety dictates that the ring should go back to the purchaser.

5. Reimburse attendants for their expenses.

If your bridesmaids and groomsmen have already bought their outfits, reserved hotel rooms or paid for airline tickets, you should pay them back. There’s no wiggle room on this one.

6. Seek professional counseling.

Those of us in the wedding business often hear stories about brides who, after being left at the altar, decide to hold the party anyway. They reportedly dance with abandon, seemingly unconcerned that there wasn’t a ceremony before the reception. But I suspect many of these tales are urban myths.

The truth is, it’s traumatizing for the jilted partner, and the bride and groom both need time to regain their composures. Just like in a divorce, sometimes the ex-couple makes bad decisions out of anger or hurt. Take a break from interacting with each other until you are both calm–which might be several weeks, at best–and make sure there is an objective, unemotional mediator present when you do decide to talk.

photo credit: Flickr