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  • Welcome to Wedding Industry Law Online!

    Wedding Industry Law is your online resource for legal news and education on running a wedding business. We hope you find the articles, videos, and information helpful. If you have any comments, news tips, or areas that you would like to see covered, please let us know!

    Wedding Industry Law is edited by Wedding Lawyer and Trial Attorney Rob Schenk. Contributing blogger Ayisha Lawrence also kicks out some of the jams, too.

    UNFORTUNATELY, WE ARE UNABLE TO RESPOND TO REQUESTS FOR LEGAL ADVICE (sad face).

I’m a wedding business owner. Can I fire my client?

Firing a client? Get familiar with these babies....

Firing a client? Get familiar with these babies….

DON’T YOU DARE CONSIDER THIS AS LEGAL ADVICE FOR YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION. I AM SERIOUS. INDIVIDUAL FACTS MATTER TO LEGAL ANALYSIS. THIS BLOG POST REPRESENTS A BASIC, GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE LAW REGARDING BREACH OF CONTRACT. IF YOU WANT TO FIRE A CLIENT, SPEAK WITH A LAWYER IN YOUR AREA.

Let’s talk about firing a client (SEE ABOVE DISCLAIMER).

Can I fire my client?

When I say, ‘fire a client,’ I’m talking about when the client pays you and expects you to do your job, but is extremely hard to work with. They’re needy, they call you too much, and they belittle you. It’s the times when you want to shoot laser beams out of your eyes and melt their face.

What I’m not going to be talking about when I say ‘fire a client’ is where you let a client go because they haven’t paid you, they cancelled the wedding, they stole your work van, or kicked your puppy.

We’re talking about the first scenario, in which your decision to fire the client is unilateral, based on the client being a horrible person, OK?

Breach of a Wedding Vendor Contract.

So let’s talk about breach of contract. A basic way to understand a contract is that it’s an exchange of promises. I agree to pay you money, you agree to play the cello at my wedding. A typical contract will have lots of promises. When a party fails to fulfill a promise, then they have breached the contract. Breach a promise, breach the contract.

As you can imagine, some promises within a contract are more important than others. We call those MATERIAL. For example, if you are a stylist, and you promise to do make-up and hair for the wedding party between 1:00pm and 3:00pm, but you get there at 1:05pm, then you did not fulfill that promise. Technically, you are in breach of contract. However, if you don’t show up at all, then you did not fulfill a really critical promise, and you are in MATERIAL breach.

Who determines whether a promise is material? Most of the time, that’s going to be a judge or jury after a hard fought breach of contract case. In other words, by people other than you and at a much later time.

Or, promises can be made material by explicitly stating so in the contract. For example, a wedding officiant may state that if clients are intoxicated at time of ceremony, the contract will be terminated immediately. There, the officiant is defining materiality. In essence, you may take the issue of materiality out of the hands of a jury or judge.

Material Breach of a Wedding Vendor Contract.

Why is the difference between a non-material term and material term important?  Because each have a different outcome. When a client breaches an immaterial term, you the vendor have gotta keep on trucking, keep on fulfilling your promises, and complete your portion of the contract. Then, you can sue the client for breach of contract later.

When a client breaches a material term, generally, and I mean generally, you have the option to terminate performance immediately. Any promises that you have not fulfilled, you don’t need to fulfill them. In other words, you are able to just walk away…and then go right to the courthouse. (SEE THE LEGAL DISCLAIMER ABOVE. ALL SITUATIONS ARE DIFFERENT. SEEK COUNSEL BEFORE TERMINATING ANY CONTRACT. DO NOT RELY ON THIS BLOG POST OR THIS BLOG).

MATERIAL versus IMMATERIAL: It is the difference between saying, “I’m going to sue you when this is over” vs. “this is over NOW and I’m going to sue you.”

Firing a Client.

So, when you say, “I want to fire a client”, what you are really saying is that “I want to terminate this contract NOW based on the client’s material breach of contract.” The pitfall here is actually firing your client. Here’s why: Whatever the client is doing, is it REALLY a material breach?

Because when you walk away from a contract, and the other party has either not breached or has not committed a material breach, then you are in danger of being sued yourself. People can’t just get out of contracts because they are annoyed, stressed, or hate the other person. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be having to let student loans go to voicemail whenever they call. I’d pick it up today: “I’m firing you guys. Peace.”

So, be super careful if you fire a client. There are a lot of legal liabilities to think about.

So what’s the verdict?

The most important thing you can do is to pick your clients wisely. Are you buyin what they’re sellin? Do you like the cut of their jib? Communicate UPFRONT with what types of behavior are not tolerated. This is going to be the best way to prevent having to fire a client later on.

That’s the most important thing I can say about that. BUT…You CAN incorporate material terms into your contract, that is to say, defining what behavior you will not tolerate and putting the client on notice as to what will happen if they exhibit such behavior. But it is hard to do right.

Problem One: You may come across like a jerk. You run the risk of having an overly long, harsh contract that’s a 100 pages. Potential clients will see that, they’ll call you a few names in their head and they won’t hire you. Make sure the language used is not critical, but affirms both parties’ duties.

Problem Two: You’re wishy-washy or vague with your terms. If you want to be able to terminate a contract based on a client’s awful conduct, you have to keep the terms SIMPLE and WELL DEFINED. There is a big difference between, “Don’t be blowin’ up my cell phone all the time,” versus stating a specific time during the day in which you receive phone calls, the number of times that you will receive calls inside or outside these hours, then stating the consequences for violating the term.

Dudes, at the end of the day though, the issue with problem clients, that is, the clients that are really just big pains, is that if you try to incorporate escape valves into your contract for them, it becomes more of a hassle than just vetting the client from the beginning.

Should Mom sign my wedding vendor contract?

Mardi Gras chicken wings vs. Lemon Pepper chicken wings, the age old question...

Mardi Gras chicken wings vs. Lemon Pepper chicken wings, the age old question…

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.