Signed agreement but no deposit: IS THERE A CONTRACT?

Helaine Olen over at Slate provides advice to a young couple regarding the enforceability of a wedding photography contract. Of course, yours truly gets to add his two cents.

Welcome to Ask the Bills, where every two weeks Helaine Olen answers readers’ questions about their most nagging personal-finance and financial-etiquette dilemmas. Seeking advice on a money issue? Email [email protected].


My fiancée and I met with a wedding photographer a few months ago. She gave us a contract form to fill out and sign but said it was the deposit that held her, not the written document. We looked over her materials, asked lots of questions, and said we would think about what we wanted and get back to her. She sent us a few emails stating we needed to put down a deposit or else she would need to take other jobs on our requested date. We never put down a deposit, thinking she had taken other work based on her earlier comment about the deposit, not a contract and, frankly, we weren’t very enamored with her. I sent her an email a couple of weeks ago saying we had found a different photographer, thank you very much, more as a courtesy than anything. I received an email from her saying we wouldn’t want to lose our deposit, and that even though we weren’t going to go with her for our wedding day, we should schedule other pictures with her, and that she turned down other jobs because we signed a contract. Her contract states we can cancel at any time but would forfeit the deposit, but we never put one down. Are we obligated to give her money even though she has plenty of time to find summer wedding work, or can I get away with not paying?