Weddings and the Law: What you Need to Know Before Your Big Day

A wedding is a joyous event.   However, it is also a formal occasion that requires extensive planning.  Couples and their families are willing to endure the stress because they hope that their efforts will result in a beautiful, memorable wedding day.  But sometimes, the unthinkable happens: an engagement is broken, a vendor doesn’t show, or a cake is destroyed.  This post will explain a few key points to know about weddings and the law.     


Before the Wedding: The Vendors  

When it comes to weddings and the law, vendor contracts are likely the largest cause of legal disputes.  However, a written contract can also protect you if better turns to worse near your wedding day.

After you agree to terms and payment with a vendor, there are several steps you should take to protect yourself.  Be sure to get everything in writing.   While you may feel comfortable entering into a spoken agreement, this is not advisable.  A written agreement will make your expectations clear to the vendor. Moreover, if you should need to sue, a written contract can be entered into evidence.

Once you receive the written contract, read every word.  Specifically, read the provisions about cancellations, refunds, and emergencies.  Also, for certain vendors, you should include terms that specify exactly what you want (e.g., “florist to provide five dozen pink grandiflora roses”).  Being clear about the terms will help prevent problems.  It may also provide you with a basis for recovery if the contract is not honored.


Before the Wedding: To Pre-Nup, or Not to Pre-Nup?

One area of weddings and the law that most people have heard much about but understand little is the prenuptial agreement (“prenup.”).  In general, a prenup is a contract that decides how a couple’s assets will be divided in the event of divorce.  However, a prenup can also outline financial duties during a marriage, such as stating that one spouse will not take on the other’s debts. 

There are many emotional, financial, and moral issues that must be considered before a prenup is signed.   But if a couple does decide to sign on the dotted line, they should make sure that the prenup is valid in their state.  While each state’s law is different, evidence that one party was forced into the agreement, that the agreement is patently unfair, or that one side lacked legal representation may invalidate the agreement in some states.


Before the Wedding: Broken Engagements

Though this post is about weddings and the law, broken engagements should be discussed here as well because ending the engagement effectively cancels the wedding.  When a person says, “I don’t,” several legal issues arise.  

One of the biggest legal questions that arises after a broken engagement is who gets to keep the ring.  States have developed a variety of approaches to this issue.  Some states hold that the person who gave the ring should always get it back.  Others hold that the ring should be given back under certain conditions.  Still other states examine who was responsible for ending the engagement.  There are a variety of complex approaches, so consulting an attorney may be the best course of action.  

Another legal – and financial issue – that must be considered is the vendors.  In general, vendor contracts that allow refunds reduce the refund amount as the wedding date draws closer.    So, depending on the timing of the cancellation, state law, and the contract, the vendor may be entitled to keep some or all of any deposits.  In some instances, vendors have been allowed to collect full fees when weddings are cancelled at the last minute.   In general, the person who signed the contract is responsible for the fee, even if that person is the one who was left at the altar.      


During the Wedding: Make it Legal!

The law doesn’t take a break during your wedding ceremony.  Every state has laws that specify the requirements for a marriage to be legal in that state.  These laws outline the legal age for marriage, residency requirements, and other mandates.  The state laws also outline how to get a marriage license in each state.  

Make sure that you have a valid, unexpired marriage license on the date of your wedding.  Moreover, make sure that your officiant is legally recognized by the state where you plan to wed, as every state has its own rules on who can perform weddings.  

As if all of this isn’t confusing enough, destination weddings add another layer of issues.  The United States Department of State cautions Americans getting married abroad to carefully comply with the host nation’s marriage laws.  Additionally, marriages performed overseas are not automatically valid in the U.S.  The State Department advises those getting married abroad to consult their state officials for advice on how to make their marriage legal in the states.


After the Wedding: A Whole New World

Your relationship with weddings and the law does not end when you leave the reception venue. You will need to address any remaining legal issues from the wedding.  Also, you will need to take legal steps to establish your new life.

If your wedding vendors failed to show or provided unacceptable service, you may have a legal claim.   If the vendor will not address your request after being asked politely, make your request in writing.  Be specific and clear about which part of the contract is at issue.  If the vendor fails to address your concerns, you may have a case.  However, courts are more sympathetic to cases where a vendor completely fails to perform (e.g., the photographer didn’t show) than cases where reasonable minds could differ on the services rendered (e.g. this photo isn’t flattering).  Also, be careful not to needlessly slander your vendor, as that might prompt the vendor to turn the tables and sue you – and they might win.  

After paying all the vendors and returning from your honeymoon, there are still several legal issues to consider.    A name change is a legal procedure.  Moreover, after the marriage, your spouse can be legally added to your health insurance plan.  Now that you have a spouse, you may want to update your will, your life insurance policy, and other similar documents.     Addressing these legal issues will prepare both of you for the new chapter in your life.



As you plan your wedding, understanding a little about weddings and the law will help you plan a stunning affair.  While some of these issues appear straightforward, some issues may require professional legal assistance to be resolved.  The African American Attorney Network can help you find a lawyer who will work to ensure that you and your spouse have a wonderful wedding and a fulfilling future together.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship.  Should you need legal advice please seek the assistance and advice of an attorney in our directory or one that you locate by other means.