A Helpful Guide to Cancelling a Wedding at the Last Minute

Deciding to call off a wedding can be incredibly hard. Use this simple guide to get you through the essentials quickly. Then, take time to care for yourself.

By The Zola Team

Couple sitting in grassy feild
Photo by Giannas Photography

If you’re thinking about how to cancel a wedding at the last minute, you’re dealing with something incredibly difficult right now. No couple begins planning a wedding with the intention of cancelling it. Whatever you’re going through, and whatever your emotional response to it is, it’s valid.

This guide is here to help you cancel your wedding, if you need to, even if that need arises with extremely short notice. In order to ease your burden, this guide breaks down how to call off a wedding into three steps:

  • Make the decision.
  • Cancel with vendors.
  • Notify your guests.

There’s only one way to start.

Step 1: Make the Decision

The first, most important thing you need to do is decide to cancel, or not. Or, perhaps choose another option.

Before you go about cancelling, not to mention cancelling a wedding at the last minute, you need to be sure it’s what you want and need to do.

Do You Need to Cancel Your Wedding?

If you want to, you might need to. But, you also might need to but not want to.

If you already know the answer to this question beyond a shadow of a doubt, feel free to skip ahead. However, if you’re not sure, you should take some time to think about why you are looking to cancel your wedding in the first place. The reasons you have are probably complex, but they likely fall into two general categories:

  • Internal: Something in or about your relationship, or the wedding itself, has given rise to the question of cancellation.

    • Disagreements, maltreatment, breach of trust, etc.
  • External: A stimulus that’s not part of your relationship dynamics, nor the wedding itself, has arisen and now casts doubt on the wedding.

    • Emergencies (medical, financial, etc.)

Relationships are complicated, and your reasoning may have to do with both internal and external factors. If they lean more toward the internal, though, and you want to call off your wedding, then that’s all you need to know. If you want it to be cancelled, it probably needs to be cancelled.

But, if your reasons are more external than internal, especially in the wake of a catastrophe, you may not want to cancel. You may still very much want to marry your future bride or groom, but are simply unable to because something is getting in the way. If this is the case, you may want to consider postponing your wedding.

A Helpful Guide to Cancelling a Wedding at the Last Minute Photo Credit // Astray Photography

Postponement

Postponement is a great option for any couple that still very much wants (needs!) to get married, but who cannot have their wedding as planned at the current moment. If that description fits you, consider checking out our full guide on postponing your wedding.

Postponement is a cancellation of a kind. By postponing, you are cancelling the specific date of the wedding and rescheduling for a different date. You might try to reschedule right away, for a determined date with the same vendors, or you might indefinitely postpone. In any case, you may not be able to secure all of the same vendors or resources for your new date.

Whatever choice you make, making the choice is incredibly important.

Urgency

You shouldn’t panic, but you should feel a sense of urgency, especially since this is last-minute. Chances are, you have three options to choose from:

  1. Have your wedding as planned.
  2. Postpone your wedding until a later date.
  3. Cancel your wedding outright.

In choosing which one to take, talk with those closest to you—your partner, family, friends, etc.—and be as open and honest as you can. Starting a marriage is a momentous event, one that you absolutely must go into with conviction.

The same is true of cancelling a wedding. If you do decide to cancel, the process ahead is all about conversations. Regardless of your timeframe, your decision should instill urgency into every email you send and every phone call you make, moving forward.

Step 2: Cancel With Your Vendors

The first people you get in touch with, outside of those who help you make your decision, should be your vendors and venue. This is the business side of the wedding, the side that involves financial responsibility for you, your partner, and other stakeholders.

While you don’t need to settle things on this side before moving onto the next step and reaching out to everyone else, you certainly need to get this ball rolling first.

Create a System

You need to get in contact with all your vendors, and that’s not always an easy task. Having a systematic way to approach them can make this task easier when dealing with the money side of things.

If you haven’t already, consider organizing your vendors into a list, with all relevant information noted. Be sure to include contact information, as well as any contracts or legal documentation, which you should also review and confirm your understanding thereof.

Then, determine how to prioritize who you reach out to first. You might consider these factors in determining where to start:

  • Cost (most to least expensive)
  • Ease (most to least accessible)
  • Rapport (least to most amicable)

Once you’ve determined the order, keep tabs on your ongoing contact with each vendor. A spreadsheet is a great way to keep all this information organized. A wedding planner, or wedding planning software, can also help immensely with these technical aspects. These support systems can also help you draft the communication itself.

A Helpful Guide to Cancelling a Wedding at the Last Minute Photo Credit // Holly Shankland Photography

Notification of Cancellation

When you do reach out to your vendors, the ideal methods for doing so are recorded ones—mail or email with documented confirmation of delivery.

Since you’re contacting many vendors with essentially the same news, it would be wise to draft boilerplate language, or adapt a template available online, to send out to everyone. Keeping your messaging uniform will help with record-keeping.

Make sure your correspondence:

  • Is direct, clear, and professional.
  • Specifies what good(s) and service(s) you wish to cancel.
  • Requests any refunds you are eligible to receive.

Refunds

Depending on the contracts you’ve negotiated, you may be entitled to partial or full refunds from your vendors.

Being that you are cancelling a wedding at the last minute, you are unlikely to be entitled to much. There’s even a chance you are liable for fees related to cancellation, depending on how last-minute your decision is made. Always request the maximum money, and be prepared to make an argument for why you should receive your request, but be ready for friction. This is where legal counsel, in addition to other wedding planning support, can be most useful.

Moving Forward

Contacting your vendors is likely to be a difficult, draining task. When it comes to technical tasks, you can—and should—leverage any wedding planners, wedding software, wedding apps, and all other supports that you were using to plan your wedding in order to cancel it.

When you work with our team, we help you with everything from the most special and intricate details of a wedding to the toughest of calls, cancelling.

And, again, note that you don’t need to have this vendor step completely wrapped up before moving onto the last, maybe hardest, step.

Step 3: Notify Your Guests

Finally, it’s time to let all your would-be guests know what’s going on. While the vendor step likely involves more financial stakes, this step’s personal and emotional toll is likely to be considerable.

You need to think about who to notify, what to say, and how to help them. First up, who does “them” need to be?

Who to Notify

As with your systematic communication with vendors, getting in touch with everyone on your guest list at once can be burdensome. However, your close friends and family members will have to know the situation at some point. Luckily, you may not need to contact everyone, or at least not all at once.

Make sure to reach out to these parties, in this order of priority:

  • Anyone in the wedding party
  • Confirmed guests
  • Anyone invited (if the RSVP deadline has not passed)

You also might consider other factors, such as individual guests’ circumstances. Having categories based on recipients’ closeness to you or likely reaction to the news can be helpful when determining both the priority and the content of your notice.

What to Say to Close Friends and Family

As with your communication with your vendors, you may want to draft boilerplate language or look at templates available online. However, you may also consider having different levels of messages for different categories of recipients.

Be personable, but remain direct. While you don’t need to provide reasons, especially right away, you should be sure to:

  • Confirm with your loved ones that you’re cancelling your wedding.
  • Indicate how you can best support them.

How to Support Them

Your guests are your guests because they are your loved ones. You wanted them there to support you and your significant other on your big day, and they will still support you, regardless. In turn, you should also extend your support for them, especially materially, such as return assistance, where possible, and help them regain any funds they have put down.

Reimbursement

As a general rule of thumb, where possible, if the wedding is to be cancelled, you should return gifts you received for the wedding. This pertains to both physical gifts (home goods, etc.) and any financial assistance with the planning.

In addition, be aware that your guests may well have other financial investments to account for. You should assist them with securing reimbursement for hotels, travel, and any other expenses they may have incurred on account of your wedding plans.

Be Understanding

A wedding cancellation is hard on everyone involved—you most of all, but your loved ones and guests, as well. Put yourself in their shoes and understand that they are processing trauma just as you are. If you are unable to return a gift, or are otherwise overburdened, be open and honest about your situation. Your guests are your loved ones, and they will be understanding, too.

You’re Doing the Right Thing

The one thing you need to remember is that doing what you need to do is doing the right thing.

If you get married as initially planned, you are doing what you always knew was right. If you need to postpone or cancel your wedding because of an internal struggle, you are doing the right thing for you, your spouse, and all of the people in your lives. If you need to postpone or cancel your wedding because of an external factor, you are doing what needs to be done.

In any case, you have support with your team at Zola, so let us know how we can help.