The (I) Dos and Do Not’s of Pennsylvania Wedding Law

by Nicholas Sandercock

There are few periods of a romantic relationship as hectic as wedding planning. From the time she (or he) says yes, until you finally say, “I do,” you and your significant other will contractually commit to anything from a venue to an ice sculpture, and everything in between. Wedding planning is meant to be a time when lifelong dreams are made into realities and knowing what to look for in your wedding agreements can help those best-laid plans from turning into nightmare fuel.

While your significant other may beg to differ, there is nothing particularly special about the contracts you sign leading up to your wedding: to be enforceable they must comply with Pennsylvania contract law.  What does make the wedding contract unique what surrounds it – the pressure to get the perfect venue, the must-have photographer, or that florist you’ve been following on Pinterest for five years – and wedding vendors/venues can use this emotion to their advantage to get you to agree to terms you wouldn’t under any other circumstances.

Following these simple principles of contract law can help you know when to say “I do” or “I don’t”:

  1. Don’t get stuck with an Adhesion Contract – An Adhesion Contract is one that you sign without the value of a bargain, and often under duress. What does that mean? If a vendor or a venue says, you have to sign the contract as its written, take-it-or-leave-it, without giving you the ability to negotiate terms that are clearly written to benefit them; it may be an adhesion contract. This, combined with the first-come-first-served pressure of wedding planning, those one-sided contract provisions may be unenforceable.
  1. Gone with the windfall – For more than a century in Pennsylvania, it has been the law that a contract cannot be worth more cancelled than if completed. What does this mean for your wedding contracts? By way of example, a venue cannot arbitrarily charge you a penalty for cancelling your wedding just to deter you from cancelling.  In Pennsylvania, if you cancel your wedding, the wedding venue would only be entitled to the profit they could have reasonably expected to make on your event.
  1. Not so Non-Refundable Deposits – A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but a penalty by any other name is just as unenforceable. “Non-refundable deposits” are a great example of terms found in adhesion contracts, and are often penalties masquerading as damages clauses. Few wedding vendors/venues will let you book the date without putting money down, but just because you put money down doesn’t mean you can’t get it back.  If that “non-refundable” deposit isn’t reasonably calculated to anticipate the vender’s damages, it could be an unenforceable provision, and you may be able to get it back.
  1. If they don’t mitigate, you can litigate. Regardless of whether it’s written into your wedding contracts or not, if you cancel on a vendor/venue, they have a duty to take reasonable steps to “mitigate” their damages. This often means that they have to make some attempt to rebook the date.  Unlike damage provisions, the pressure is on you to show that they haven’t attempted to mitigate their damages.  The concept of mitigation works to protect you in several ways: first, if they rebook the date and make the same amount of profit, you could be off the hook, and second, if they rebook the date but make less profit than they would have if you had not cancelled, it could reduce what you owe.
  1. Know what you’re worth. While the language of a contract can be confusing, it’s important to read it through and understand what you’re obligations are. In Pennsylvania, contracts are limited to the words on the page. Just because you talked about using the venue’s in-house catering service, does not necessarily mean your contract obligates you to do it, or that the venue can reasonably expect the same when determining its damages.

It’s easy to get lost the sea of legal jargon that makes up the typical wedding contract, and that’s why it’s important to consult an attorney to help you navigate the storm. Often an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a relatively small amount of money spent having an attorney review your wedding contracts prior to signing could save you thousands on the back end.

After all, who wants to bargain for the cancellation provision in your wedding contracts in front of your fiancé? Have a lawyer do it for you!


An attorney with Gross McGinley, Nicholas Sandercock provides counsel to individuals and businesses in litigation matters. Since planning his own wedding in Lehigh County, Nick has worked with individuals and wedding industry professionals to ensure they understand the contracts they are signing and any obligations and risks they may be assuming. Nick also counsels couples who feel a vendor or venue may not have fulfilled their obligations or is attempting to keep deposits/fees to which they are not entitled.

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