What if the wedding is called off?

Cancelled wedding? What a mother of the bride needs to do.

As a mother you know that you have had ‘what if’ fears all of your daughter’s life.  What if she’s bullied at school? What if she gets pregnant at 15? What if she doesn’t get into college?  What if she starts taking drugs?  What if she never finds a partner?  What if…?  What if…?  The truth is that the horrifying scenarios that have kept us awake at night for twenty, thirty or forty years probably never materialised, or if they did, our daughter dealt with them in her own way without asking us to sort things for her.

What actually happened was that things you’d never even thought of happened, for good or ill.

So don’t be surprised that your thoughts now are flooded by ‘what if’ worries as the wedding approaches.  That’s just what happens to mothers.  But worries can mess up your head – to say nothing of your mascara – so let’s get rid of them now.

In this post I’ll look at our biggest ‘what if’ dread.

What if they cancel the wedding?

This fear attacks both your emotions and your purse so has the potential to give you insomnia right up to the night before and to have you running around madly checking everyone is happy on the day.

Well, here are the statistics.  20% of engaged couples never get married.  Very few of them call things off on the actual day but, yes, that does happen. 

But cheer up.  That means the likelihood of your daughter and her intended calling off the wedding is small.  80% of couples do not call off the wedding.  Still worried?

While the emotional fall out will be massive it is unlikely to be something you can help with.  Comments meant to soothe such as ‘I had the feeling he was trouble all along’ and ‘Just think of this as a narrow escape, darling.  He would never have made you happy,’ only make things immeasurably worse.  She loved him so don’t say a word against him unless you want her to stop talking to you for the next several years.  She has friends, she has social media, she has all that Prosecco to use up – she’ll get over him in her own way.

Give her a big hug – if she’ll accept one.  But don’t waste valuable emotional resources on figuring out how you’ll help her cope.  That’s not your role. 

So let’s turn our attention to the other fall-out of this broken engagement – money.

Read my article: Wedding Insurance. Is it worth it? It gives more information on how to recoup expenses directly or through insurance if things go wrong on the day. But it won’t cover a change of heart by the couple.

The wise way to help pay for the wedding

Most parents contribute to their daughter’s wedding – at least the first one.  So you need to plan exactly how you will do this.  And this planning needs to be done before you buy anything at all. Right from the start of the engagement you need to keep in mind the odds of the marriage not taking place, even if they are slim. 

You’re not the only one to be keeping an eye on the odds of cancellation – every supplier is well aware things might go wrong.  From the venue and the caterers to the bridal shop owner and the florist, everyone wants to ensure they get the sale whatever happens.  So they all push for early booking.  They might genuinely have every Saturday booked for the next two years or they might just need the cash flow that early booking assures. 

They know that one in five bookings may never happen so after early booking most will then offer a great discount if most or all of the bill is paid early.  And that discount will get smaller as the wedding gets nearer.

Now with all the other expenses wouldn’t it be senseless to give up on a 10% saving when you know you intend to pay for the venue/ catering/wedding dress anyway and you have the cash available in your savings account?

Yes and no.  Read the small print with the discount offer and decide how much you stand to lose if the wedding is called off.  The later you leave it to pay for things, the longer the couple have to think things over/fall on your shoulder and say they are just not sure if they can go through with it.  So staged payments may be a better deal for you where you negotiate a smaller discount on the early payment/s but retain the right to stop paying if things go wrong.

Is the early-pay discount worth the risk?

Based on the odds of the wedding being called off you might think that a 10% discount for early payment makes the risk worth it.  Here’s the math – the venue costs $20,000 but they’re offering you a staggering $2000 off if you book and pay at least 9 months before the big day.  Hey, that would pay for the wedding dress. 

But if the wedding is called off you stand to lose $18,000 on the venue alone.  That’s a serious amount of money.  And what do you have to show for taking that risk?  A wedding dress that will probably not be returnable either. 

But if you negotiate a 20% discount to compensate you for a 20% risk of cancellation that might be worth it.  You stand to lose $16,000 even so.  But if you don’t invest that saving into $4,000 of unreturnable items and instead keep it in the bank and give it as a cheque once the couple are wed, they will be very pleasantly surprised and you might sleep better.  Let your daughter buy her own dress.  Keep that $4000 in the bank until the wedding day.  Then give the couple a cheque they had not expected.  What a windfall for them just as they set off for their honeymoon. 

If the wedding doesn’t take place then at least you are left with $4000 towards the expenses.

Most brides will cringe at the thought of their mother negotiating terms with suppliers – after all they’re all so nice and most offer a glass of champagne as the bride is choosing what to buy. Even so, if you are paying it is your right to make a deal if you can, even if you accept the glass of bubbly.  But probably best to sort out that deal with the vendor once your daughter has made her choice and left you to actually pay.

Why the bride will always take the early – pay discount

Your daughter will be doing similar sums with the things she is paying for.  But her reasoning will be slightly different.  Here’s what the couple will be discussing, ‘The dress costs £2,000 but if I pay now it only costs £1,800.  If I keep the £1,800 in my savings account for a year it will earn next to nothing in interest so why not just pay now as I have the cash.’  Or, ‘I was going to save up £2,000 for the dress but why not take out a loan as rates are so low and I can get the dress so much cheaper if I pay right away.  My saving of £200 will be lots more than the interest I pay on the loan’.  You see she is absolutely certain that neither she nor the groom will back out so doesn’t even take the potential loss of £2,000 into account’.  That’s what love does to the human brain.

Don’t hold your daughter hostage through guilt

On balance it’s best not to burden your daughter with how the whole thing is giving you sleepless nights.  Just do what will give you the fewest headaches.  There’s no need at all to share your financial planning with her.

But there’s another upside to staggering payment or paying full price nearer the time.  Statistics show that only a fifth of couples back out of getting married.  Yet we all know that we change our mind about all sorts of things once we have time to think things through.  So why is the percentage of broken engagements so low when the percentage of divorces is so high?  Could one of the reasons be that the couple can’t face the horror of all that money being wasted? 

Letting the bride know that you are paying in stages or nearer the wedding date might help her and her fiancé to make a very difficult decision.  This might sound heartless in the euphoria of the early days of their engagement but if either of them have doubts as the months go by this little word about how you will pay may actually give them both the emotional space to reassess things. 

You might pass up on a great money-off deal but what discount can ever make up for a marriage entered into for the wrong reasons?

Last minute cancellation or party on regardless?

Finally, if the wedding is called off at the last moment you are no doubt also wondering how to deal with guests.  They’ve saved the date, bought the outfit and probably purchased a gift.  There may be relatives living abroad who have bought expensive air tickets too.

If the thought of telling everyone to go home or ringing them all two days before to cancel makes you shudder then the only sensible thing to do is to hold the reception.  The theme might have changed but what a wonderful opportunity to get friends and (most) family together when it’s all paid for now anyway.

The bride might be unwilling to come or the groom might not be invited but try to find something positive about your daughter’s future that you can make a toast to during the party. ‘We’re all sad to see her plans for setting up home with a loving partner put on hold.  But she has other things to look forward to.  Her career is about to take a big step forward with a new job offer.  Let’s all stand up and drink to her future and wish her the greatest of success in this new venture.’

Where can you recoup expenses?

If the wedding is cancelled very close to the day, or even on the day itself, you are unlikely to be able to salvage much of the outlay.  But there may be some savings to be made. If you opt for having a party anyway, make it less extravagant.  You will be able to reclaim most or all of your payment for bottles unopened if you decide to reduce the amount of alcohol served and cancel the bar.  If you don’t want the band or DJ they might accept a settlement fee for not turning up.  Ring the photographer and ask if they will do the same. 

Ensure the dress, if unworn, is boxed up and ask the shop how much they could offer you on it.  There’s always EBay and local online sites you can try too – though you won’t be in the mood for snapping pictures of the frock for a week or so. That said, the savvy (or cynical) mother of the bride will ensure she has pictures of the wedding dress – without her daughter’s face – before the wedding.  Ask the store, they’ll usually have images of modelled examples.

Should you ask the groom to share expenses if he calls things off?

You may feel that if you and your daughter have paid most of the costs that you have a right to ask for some repayment from the groom especially if it was his decision to call things off.  Your daughter may not feel up to asking so you should do that.  You will need to deal with the emotions released but forewarned is forearmed.  You may get nothing.  If substantial amounts are up for discussion you may want to get lawyers involved.  The courts will likely want to see evidence that everyone accepted that there would be some sharing out of costs once the marriage took place.  But not many engaged couples want to draft a pre-nup over such things. 

However an email trail can be useful.  If there are conditions attached to your financial input you should say so in an email to each of them.  You might write ‘I hope my financial help for the wedding/the honeymoon/improving your house will help you both enjoy the day/enjoy your married life together.  If for any reason/In the very unlikely event you decide not to get married I would expect you to help with some of the wedding costs I have covered/offer me repayment for the honeymoon/house improvements.

As long as you have a back-up plan for a worst-case scenario you can afford to relax and look forward to a wonderful day.  All businesses have such back-up plans so that they can stop worrying about things that could go wrong – otherwise they’d never have the confidence to invest in new or risky products which are the best way to make good profits.  And you have to take risks to make babies too!

What happens to the engagement ring when a wedding is called off?

If you’re worried about the status of that fabulous engagement ring your daughter is flashing everywhere if the wedding does not go ahead, then here’s the answer.

The law is relatively clear.  The engagement ring is a gift.  Gifts are either absolute/unconditional – meaning that once given, the gift cannot be withdrawn, or they are conditional – meaning that he gift is given on condition that (in this case) the couple marry.  Conditional gifts are to be returned if the condition is not fulfilled.  So, for example, if you buy a bottle of wine for a friend because she says she’ll drive you to work, that’s a conditional gift.  If she doesn’t drive you to work you can ask her to return the wine.

According to family law specialists Family Law in Practice at https://flip.co.uk in the UK an engagement ring is an absolute/unconditional gift so your daughter can keep it if she wishes.

In the US things are more complicated.  Each state has a ruling on whether an engagement ring is a conditional or unconditional gift.  According to https://thespruce.com an American home and family lifestyle site, here are the US states where the ring must be returned (unless given on a birthday or other significant occasion) irrespective of which partner breaks off the engagement:

  • Iowa
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wisconsin

Here is the state where the ring can be kept whoever breaks off the engagement:

  • Montana

And in the following states the giver of the ring can expect to get it back if the one who accepts it breaks off the engagement, but cannot get it back if they are the one to break things off.

  • California
  • Texas
  • Washington

If the ring has great sentimental value or is an heirloom, then the kind thing to do is to return it.  The law sees such rings as exceptions to the rule though in both the UK and the US it might take the lawyers to settle the case if your daughter stubbornly insists on keeping such a ring.

Engagement gifts and early wedding gifts are normally expected to be returned.

Whichever partner calls off a wedding, both are in deep shock.  And people in shock can act very unexpectedly.  It is your role as Mother of the Bride to accept the situation calmly and to help organise practical matters that need seeing to.  If you go into shock too you can’t do this effectively.  So make your private crisis management plans just in case.  The couple need you to be caring and positive and impartial.  And your daughter needs to know you are always there for her.

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