Fascinator? Check. Cute dress? Check. Glass of bubbly? Check. Heels? – no chance, I'm in my slippers at home on the sofa.

In October 2020, I received an electronic wedding invite in the form of a Zoom link to the wedding of my litigation colleague and her fiancé. The now newlyweds had decided to stick with their original date and despite the guest list being shortened and the seats being spaced out, the love and best wishes of those watching (from within the church to those Zooming in from Australia, the USA and Canada) remained as high as ever.

The impact of COVID-19 on weddings is an area where litigation and family law cross over. Some couples haven't let the minor inconvenience of a pandemic dampen their day, but what about those who wish to reschedule to a future date when masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing won't feature in the running order?

Contract considerations

Back in March 2020, the wedding industry was shut down completely. Unless you fell within very specific exemptions, it was impossible to get married. Accordingly, contracts between couples and suppliers were often clearly frustrated and any payments were due to be returned to the couple, less costs which the supplier had already incurred. Indeed, the Competition & Markets Authority issued guidance in support of this.

Now that weddings can go ahead (albeit not necessarily in the form the couple had originally envisaged), matters are far more complicated from a contractual perspective. What if your wedding can go ahead in a legal sense but you want to wait until some form of normality returns? The considerations to be taken will vary depending on whether you decide to reschedule or cancel.

The first step remains the same – regardless of whether your potential dispute is with your venue or your florist - check your terms and conditions. Is there a force majeure provision and does it cover a pandemic? If so, it should set out the rights and obligations of parties in circumstances such as this.

In most cases, you will have paid a non-refundable deposit to your supplier. If you are choosing to reschedule your wedding and your supplier can accommodate the new date, this should be straightforward. If, however, you choose to reschedule and your supplier is unavailable, you may find that you forfeit your deposit. If you choose to cancel your wedding entirely, you may find that you not only forfeit your deposit but are also on the hook for cancellation fees.

A further complication is where one particular aspect of your big day is unable to proceed due to some illegality, for example where you have booked a string quartet to play during dinner, only to discover that background music is prohibited by the time the wedding rolls around. In these circumstances, there is certainly an argument that the contract has been frustrated and that any deposit should be returned to you, less costs which have already been incurred by the supplier. Again, this will depend on whether or not there is a force majeure provision within your contract.

Of course, you may have wedding insurance in place and if you find yourself embroiled in a dispute with your venue or a supplier, you should speak with your insurer to confirm whether your policy covers you in the event that they refuse to return the sums you have paid to date.

Elopements and Pre/Post-Nups

Some couples have decided to forget about an all-singing all-dancing big day, avoid the dramas of who makes the 'attending' list and elope. Jetting off to a sunny beach or winter wonderland has had some added complications this year but if you are thinking about it, read this helpful guide for things to consider when saying "I Do" abroad

Particularly after this year, if we can avoid additional stress and worry, let's do it. Family lawyers acknowledge that prenuptial agreements are viewed as unromantic or can be seen to undermine marriage or civil partnerships, but they can remove the need for costly and drawn out court proceedings in the event of future separation. Additionally, they are not just for the rich and famous! 

The most common form of prenuptial agreement in Scotland is one that protects or “ring-fences” wealth already belonging to an individual before they marry or enter into a civil partnership, or which is likely to be gifted or inherited by them in the future. A postnuptial agreement is most frequently entered into if a person inherits money whilst married or in a civil partnership and wants to make sure that money is properly earmarked for a future generation or purpose.

The agreement can be as simple or as complex as desired, but most importantly it will be tailored to fit your particular circumstances. Agreements are useful tools in future planning and provide greater certainty and peace of mind in the event of a relationship breakdown. Think of it as an insurance policy. Put it in a drawer and hope you never have to make a 'claim' – but if you do, you are covered!


Kate Bradbury