Can a contract with a wedding planner be enforceable if not in writing?

Question (from anonymous in Massachusetts):

“How much of a refund can I receive after partial payment to an event planner when a contract has not been signed?: I made a partial payment 6 weeks prior to an event to a full event planner in Maryland . I am in Massachusetts. I have been waiting for the invoice to be corrected prior to signing the contract. Due to lack of planning, I would like to cancel the event planner. At 3 weeks prior to the event: no corrected invoice and no signing of contract, no invitations selected and sent to guest, caterer/menu & centerpieces not selected or finalized, no contract for photographer/videographer. No deposits to vendors should have been made because no contract was signed and no final decisions made. I plan to request receipts of any deposits. The deposits may have been made after I asked about a refund. The planner has been difficult to contact to plan the event since I made the partial payment. Thank you.”

Response (from Attorney Rob):

Has the planner been performing, at least in some fashion, since having received the first installment? It sounds like it, as the planner has selected vendors and made various deposits to them.

It’s hard to tell from the question, but you have an argument that there was no contract because there was no true mutual assent to the material terms (sounds like you disagreed on price? Is that why you requested a new invoice? ).

More likely though, is that there is an enforceable contract that was executed when the planner offered his/her services and you accepted by sending the money. Upon receipt of that cash, the planner reserved your date and began coordinating vendors. It is not relevant that there was not a written contract, as the conduct of the parties clearly indicates you guys intended to be bound in some way.

Ok, so if there is a contract, what now? If the planner has utterly dropped the ball (I.e. not fully performed the material duties and is unresponsive) then the planner has materially breached and you may be entitled to damages. I would be careful though, as what you consider a major breach, the court, or the planner, may not. Further, the law allows parties in breach to cure their misconduct. For example, if the planner is supposed to have the invitations out at least by 30 days prior, he/she may cure by sending them a couple days later.

In your situation, I would contact the planner ASAP and let them know that you are concerned that they are not performing, and that unless you hear back from them on a date certain with an affirmation that he/she intends to perform, then you will consider them in breach and find someone else.

Good luck.

Moral of the Story: Because of the nature of the Wedding Business, vendors cannot afford to hide the ball. Communicate with your clients!