THIS BLOG POST IS NOT INTENDED TO BE, AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE. THIS IS AN EDUCATIONAL BLOG POST CONCERNING GENERAL CONTRACT LAW MATTERS. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS REGARDING CONTRACT LAW OR THIRD PARTY BENEFICIARIES, THEN CONTACT A LAWYER IN YOUR AREA.
Let’s talk about the Devil’s Triangle. To minimize confusion, we are going to refer to the persons receiving the vendor’s services, i.e., brides or grooms, as “Recipients” rather than “Client.” We are going to refer to the person paying, in many instances it’s mom or dad or both, as the Money Person. So we have a money person and we have recipients. Got it? Good.
The Devil’s Triangle occurs when (1) Only the Money Person signs the contract or (2) the Money Person AND the Recipients sign the contract.
Who is my client when only Mom or Dad (i.e. the Money Person) sign the contract?
Who is your client when ONLY the Money Person signs the contract? Generally, only the Money Person. Under basic contract law, only the people who have signed the contract are bound to the promises contained in it. This becomes a major problem when there is disharmony between the Recipients and the Money Person. The Recipients want Rihanna played at the reception, the Money Person wants Whitney Houston. The Recipients want Rugrats themed cupcakes, the Money Person wants Strawberry Shortcake.
Who is the vendor obligated to listen to when there is disagreement? Generally, the Money Person because the Money person is the client. The Money Person is the one on the hook for the payment, so they dictate the services. Any amendments to the contract, or changes to the services, or how the services are to be rendered, are generally going to be the Money Person’s call.
Think of it in reverse, if the Money Person fails to pay you, who can you go after? Only the Money Person. The Recipients didn’t sign the contract, and they have no privity of contract with you. So they are not obligated to pay you if the Money Person doesn’t.
And when you mess up, or breach the contract, it’s just the Money Person that can sue you, correct? No. Unfortunately, when the Money Person signs an agreement with the vendor, the recipients become known in the law as a “third party beneficiary.” Third party beneficiaries can step into the shoes of the Money Person and sue the vendor for breach of contract. So wait a minute. The vendor cannot sue the Recipients to get money, but the Recipients can sue the vendor if there is a breach? Sorry Charlie. That’s how it works.
Who is my client when the Money Person AND the Recipients sign the contract?
Another pitfall. When the Money Person AND the Recipients sign the contract. Who is your client then?
In that situation, everyone is.
You have the same problem as before, except now when there are disagreements, EVERYONE is your client.
Avoiding this situation
There’s two ways (out of many) that we can handle the Devil’s Triangle.
First, you can take the Money Person completely out of the equation by having only the RECIPIENTS sign the contract. This would make the Recipients your client, not the Money person.
Basically, you may instruct the Recipients to give you the money however it is easiest for them, which sometimes means that it is the Money Person who handles the payment. Maybe it’s the Money Person’s credit card, check, or cash. Whatever. Just because the Money Person is the vessel that provides the funds does NOT necessarily make them a party to the contract. If the Money Person DOES NOT sign the contract, then they are not the client.
But here is your caveat. Remember that you as the wedding vendor can only go after the signers of the contract for breach of contract, including for lack of payment. So, when the Recipients are the signers, it’s only the Recipients that you will be able to sue for the money. Not every time, but a lot of times, the Recipients don’t have money. The Money Person does. DUH, that’s why we call her the money person. That is the trade-off for not having to deal with that issue.
Second, you can assign a point of contact.
You don’t want 8 different bosses, or be a conflict resolution counselor. In your contract, you can have them agree that only ONE of them will be your point of contact for the services. This can be the Money Person, one of the Recipients, an event planner, me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, whoever they want. The point of contact will be the liaison between the vendor and all the persons, whether Money Person or Recipient. The point of contact is the final word, and the vendor, as per the contract, listens to him or her only. Changes to the scope of services, the little details or the big picture. If there is a disagreement, your name is Paul and that is between ya’ll.