What Is a Force Majeure Clause?

Find out everything you need to know about force majeure clauses with this complete guide. Read on to learn more.

By McCall Minnor

Force Majeure Clause
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown an unprecedented curveball at engaged couples and the wedding industry at large. Unfortunately, many couples have been put in a position where they’ve needed to postpone or cancel their wedding entirely. Having to review your contracts and attempt a huge change of plans for your wedding can easily become overwhelming. That being said, there’s one clause that can save you time, stress, and money if you do have to cancel due to the virus: the force majeure clause. Here’s what you need to know.

The Importance of Understanding Your Wedding Contracts

What Is a Force Majeure Clause Photo Credit // Oggi Photo

A large portion of wedding planning is centered around making fun, creative decisions, but there are also several important business transactions to attend to. When you work with a vendor, you’re working with a business and paying for someone’s service.

Just like you wouldn’t buy a house without reading the fine print, you shouldn’t sign a wedding contract without fully understanding its contents. This goes for goods and services (photography, florists, music), custom work (paper suites or similar), and anything that involves a payment plan (such as a gown), too. Before signing on the dotted line, both you and your vendor must be clear on the terms of your agreement, what’s expected, and what’s included.

The Force Majeure Clause

A force majeure clause (french for “greater force”) relieves both you and the service provider from meeting your contractual obligations when there are circumstances beyond either of your control that make performing the task impossible. This includes natural disasters, such as fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes, as well as some human-caused events outside of your creation or control.

Performance, in most cases, is excused without penalty since these situations are entirely unpredictable. However, not all force majeure clauses are the same. Many of them differ from state to state.

If you’re currently in the process of wedding planning, make a special point to go over this clause with your vendors before signing any contracts to get a full understanding of what meets their specifications.

Other Terms You Need to Know

Before going over your contracts, there are a few more terms you should be aware of. Brushing up on their meanings will not only make navigating the paperwork easier for you (read: way less stressful), but also help guide you to exactly what you’re looking for.

  • Act of God: This is a subclass of force majeure events that are most often out of human control or activity, including fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. These clauses typically also limit or completely remove liability for damages, injuries, and other losses caused by this kind of act.
  • Acts of Third Parties: Another subclass, these are acts committed by a third party that similarly affect your or your vendor's ability to meet the terms of your contract. This could be a strike, terrorist attack, or government order.
  • Postponement: Postponements occur when an event (in this case, your wedding) needs to be pushed back to a later date. Different vendors will have different postponement policies that explain whether or not your retainer fee is transferable and what happens to that money if they’re not available for the new date.
  • Cancelation: Cancelations take place when one party wants to get out of the contract and cancel the service. If you, the client, cancels, you may be liable for liquidated damages. This is the amount of financial loss that the vendor would take as a result of the cancelation. It typically increases as your date gets nearer since a shorter period lessens the likelihood of the vendor getting another booking on that date.
  • Termination: Terminations allow both parties to end their contractual obligations if they can’t be performed due to acts of God or acts of third parties. Terminating a contract allows it to end without liability. Unless otherwise stated, this means you can usually get a refund. However, many vendors will have termination clauses that require compensation for any work done pre-termination.

Is the COVID-19 Pandemic a Force Majeure Event?

What Is a Force Majeure Clause Photo Credit // Hales Studio Photography

In many contracts, the COVID-19 outbreak itself is not included as a force majeure event. How lenient your vendor will depend on the degree of specificity required by the state. If a force majeure clause includes references to a “pandemic,” “epidemic,” or “disease,” you can be confident that the coronavirus applies. Moreover, it may also apply to more general terms like “disasters,” “national emergencies,” or even “acts beyond the control of either party.”

Being tied to a contract where the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t qualify as a force majeure specific event can be quite the let-down. Before resigning in the hope of a refund, there is one more circumstance you might meet and want to check for. If the location of your wedding will be under a government-mandated lockdown on the date of your wedding, the need to cancel is due to a third party act (a “government order” or “government regulation”). In this case, you should be able to refer to the clause and terminate your contract.

In any case, it’s worth checking with your vendors over the phone or email to get a definite understanding of your specific situation and how to move forward. We recommend speaking with each other directly ASAP to avoid wasting time or getting stressed trying to decipher each contract’s legal jargon. Of course, if you need help, we’ve got you covered.

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