As we approach the start of Spring, many brides and grooms will have been eagerly counting down the hours until their big day. Unfortunately for them and their loved ones, at the start of the week, the Prime Minister announced that all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies would be prohibited. These measures are set to be in place until at least 13 April 2020 but possibly longer depending on the spread or otherwise of the coronavirus. Those with weddings this Summer still face uncertainty as to whether their nuptials will be able to go ahead, whether they are taking place in the UK or abroad.
The legal position
If a couple is told by their venue that their wedding cannot be held due to coronavirus, where do they stand?
On the face of it, not going ahead with the wedding reception will be a breach of contract by the venue subject to two key exceptions:
1. an express force majeure provision within the contract, or
2. in the absence of such a provision, a reliance on the common law doctrine of frustration.
What does this mean for the bride and groom?
Broadly, a force majeure clause is a term of a contract that excuses a delay or a failure to perform contractual obligations due to events or circumstances outside the reasonable control of the person required to undertake performance. Depending on how it is drafted, your wedding venue/other suppliers might be able to rely on a term of the contract like this to avoid being in breach of contract as a result of not going ahead with the wedding reception. Check your contracts with your venue and other relevant suppliers to see if it contains a term to this effect. We can advise you on whether the venue/other suppliers can rely on the relevant clause.
You can read more about force majeure clauses and coronavirus here.
If your contract does not have a force majeure clause in it (or one that extends to the coronavirus outbreak), you may need to consider the common law doctrine of frustration. Broadly, a contract is said to be frustrated where something happens after the contract has been entered into, which is neither party’s fault but which either makes the contract illegal or impossible to perform or radically different to what was agreed. The government’s ban on weddings is likely to be just such a frustrating event.
Where a contract is frustrated, it automatically comes to an end and both parties are released from their future obligations. Therefore the venue does not have to go ahead with the wedding and the bride and groom do not have to pay any further amounts due, e.g any balance payable on the day of the wedding.
Can you get your money back?
Where a contract is frustrated, the bride and groom could recover what they have paid, subject to an allowance for the expenses that the venue/other suppliers have incurred for the purpose of putting on the wedding. Consequently, how much any bride and groom might recover will vary from case to case.
If you have wedding insurance, whether you are covered or not will depend on what your policy wording says. We can advise you on whether your insurance policy covers you for cancellation due to coronavirus.
It is critical that in the first instance, couples who are due to get married read the fine print of their existing contracts with both their wedding suppliers and, if they have it, their insurance provider.
We appreciate this is a highly difficult time for thousands affected. Our highly experienced Disputes team is on hand to provide urgent advice on issues raised in this article. Please do get in touch.