One of the most daunting tasks to starting up our own officiating practice is putting together a Contract and Terms of Service.
After all, we wedding officiants have enough to worry about – we’re doing the actual wedding ceremony work stuff! We’re putting together the script, the officiant speech, the rehearsal, and all the other elements of a wedding ceremony. So maybe we let the contract part slide. It’s not that big a deal, right? What could go wrong?
It’s time to change that today. Over the next few minutes, I’ll help you do it.
I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, here. So let’s just reframe what a contract is all about. Asking your couple/client to sign a contract is not about holding them over a barrel. It’s about making sure everyone’s expectations are on the same page. It’s getting down – literally in black and white – what everyone believes is going on in this relationship and what we’re doing. Right down to the last detail.
This kind of clarity can only lead to good things and a happier client.
When to Offer the Contract
I always meet my potential clients in person and give them a week or so to decide on whether they wanna go with me as their wedding officiant.
Then when they send me that email and say, “We want you to be our officiant!”, I immediately follow up with a webpage that captures all their information and wedding-day details in my database. It looks like this:
On that page, they can pay their deposit via Credit Card right there online. And before they can click the “Send Payment” button, I ask them to scroll through Our Unboring!Wedding Agreement – a more fun and less uptight way of saying “Contract and Terms of Service.” They check the box indicating that they agree, and then they can lock me in.
So now we have a contract, our expectations are on the same page, and there won’t be any unpleasant “whoa-hey-I-thought-you-were-doing-the-thing!” surprises.
As wedding officiants, we’re professional vendors. We need to offer the mutual protection of a contract and a Terms of Service the same as the planner, photographer, and caterer. Why?
- It spells out who is responsible for what.
- It’s a reference point when we forget who is responsible for what.
- It outlines how we conduct ourselves when things go wrong (i.e. changes or cancellations).
I once had a couple try to radically change their ceremony start time when we met for our planning session. However, I was booked for a second wedding on their day. Without a contract, we might have argued about it and harangued over expectations. But it didn’t have to come to that. I simply referred them to the Terms of Service that they’d agreed to and signed along with their booking form (above).
There are 11 sections to my contract and Terms of Service, 10 of which I think you need in yours. My Unboring!Wedding Agreement has been vetted by a lawyer and it has ensured that my clients and I get off on the right foot and know exactly what to expect from each other.
Also, something that’s unique to my contract and Terms of Service is a fun and cheeky “tl;dr” paraphrase section, borrowed from the online slang abbreviation “too long; didn’t read.” Basically, it puts in more plain English what the more legalese version says just above.
Feel free to copy, paste, and adapt any of the copy from my contract and Terms of Service as you see fit! I’m writing this so you’ll walk away from this blogpost with a contract and Terms of Service of your very own.
Let’s go through the main parts of a wedding officiating Contract and Terms of Service so you get an idea of what your contract might need. Each section includes the full text from my Unboring!Wedding Agreement so you can see what I’ve written, and you can copy and adapt what I use.
1. A definition of the parties signing the contract
The first thing our contact needs is a clear definition of who’s who and what we’re talking about. A contract for wedding officiants is between the officiant and the couple getting married, and the “what” is their wedding ceremony.
So our first paragraph clearly spells out the “who” and the “what” as a reference point for the following paragraphs in the contract.
Here’s what it looks like in my Unboring!Wedding contract.
This Unboring!Wedding Agreement (the “Agreement”) is made between Mark Allan Groleau (the “Officiant”) and the clients identified above (“Clients” or “Client”) with respect to Client’s wedding ceremony scheduled as detailed above (the “Event”).
tl;dr (“too long; didn’t read”): In this doc, you’re “Client,” I’m “Officiant,” and your ceremony is “Event.”
2. A definition of the service we’re providing
We’re going to be using the word “Services” at various points in the contract, so it’s important to be clear what those “services” are and when they’ll be delivered.
We need to be sure to include everything involved in our process so it’s a comprehensive list of everything we’re gonna do for our couple once they’ve paid us to do what we do.
Again, here’s the clause from my Unboring!Wedding contract.
Officiant agrees to provide Wedding Officiant Services (“Services”) for Client at the date, time and location as specified in the above fields. Officiant Services include the wedding workshop, full ceremony script, original story, rehearsal, officiating the wedding, and registration of the marriage.
tl;dr: I give you all the services we discussed in our meetup, and we agree that your wedding is happening at the time and place you typed above.
3. A stipulation about the ceremony start time
Our time is valuable, whether we’re a professional officiant or not. It’s important to convey this in the contract and to have an “out” if we need to get somewhere else and the ceremony is running, say, over an hour late.
Of course, the ceremony start time running so late we need to leave isn’t something either of us wants to think about. But again, that’s what a contract is for: to spell out the things we hope never to have to deal with, and what we do if they happen.
The “Schedule” clause asks the couple to agree to stick to the ceremony start time we’ve agreed upon as best they can.
The “Ceremony Start Time” listed above shall be considered the actual Event Start Time and not Guest “Arrival” or “Invitation” time. Client agrees to do everything in their power to begin within twenty (20) minutes of the “Ceremony Start Time” as specified in the Agreement.
tl;dr: Try not to start more than 20 minutes late.
4. How we make changes and what happens when we do
Bad stuff happens. Plans need to change sometimes. This part of the contract basically gives us a code of conduct for when the unexpected comes up and one party contacts the other and wants to change the date, time, venue, etc.
Changes to this Agreement including, but not limited to the date, time, and/or location of the Event must be communicated in writing by Client and approved by Officiant in writing before it is confirmed.
tl;dr: If you wanna make changes, you gotta tell me in writing, and I gotta agree to them.
5. All the money stuff
At the heart of a freelancing contract is a clear guideline around payment. So we need to think about the amount of compensation we’d like to receive – and how and when. Will the deposit be non-refundable? Will it be one payment? Multiple payments? We need to spell it all out unambiguously.
FEES AND DEPOSIT:
The total cost of the Event Services is $___.__ + Ontario HST tax (13%); this includes all officiating Services and travel up to 200km from Yonge/Sheppard Toronto. A non-refundable 50% deposit equal to $___._ is to be paid to activate this Agreement, at which point the Officiant will start providing Services. The full balance of the remaining $___.__ and/or travel fees ($0.53/km if travel exceeds a total of 200km from Yonge/Sheppard Toronto) shall be received by Officiant with the deposit. If travel fees are required, they will be stipulated beforehand in an email by the Officiant at the time of deposit. If Client does not remit payment as specified, Officiant has the right to end this Agreement without further obligation to refund money, including the Deposit, or to perform Services at the Event. The Deposit can be applied to another date and time as long as Client requests change in writing at least seven (7) days prior to the Event date and Officiant is available. If Officiant is not available at the new date and/or time, all fees paid in excess of the Deposit will be refunded upon request from Client.
tl;dr: My services cost $___, and there are no other fees besides travel over 200km unless I ask before your deposit payment. I ask for a non-refundable deposit of 50% up front, and then you pay the balance 4 weeks before your wedding. If you need to cancel on me, you can do that up to 7 days before the wedding and get back anything you paid over and above the deposit. If you cancel less than 7 days before your wedding, I keep the fee.
6. What and when the client can cancel, and what happens to the money
There are times when a client may have to outright cancel the wedding. So we need to think through how we want to handle that. Factors to consider here are how much money to return and how much time we can reasonably allow for a refund, relative to the amount of work we’ve done.
For me, it’s 7 days. That is, I’ve already put so much work into the ceremony and turned down so many other couples vying for the same date, that if the client cancels with less than 7 days notice, I expect to keep the full fee. The client knows this – and agrees to it – going in.
Your stipulations and needs may be different. Think of what works for you, and write it out clearly.
CANCELLATION AND REFUNDS:
Cancellations must be communicated in writing. If written notice of Cancellation of Services is provided by Client at least seven (7) days prior to the Event date, all fees paid in excess of the Deposit will be refunded. If written notice of Cancellation of Services is provided by Client less than seven (7) days prior to the Event date, Client shall be responsible for full payment of Services, except for travel fees, if applicable. If written notice of Cancellation of Services is not provided by Client, Client shall be responsible for full payment of Services, including travel fees, if applicable. In the unlikely event that the Officiant is unable to perform the ceremony for unforeseen circumstances (i.e. hospitalization, automobile accident, and/or transportation breakdown, etc.), Officiant shall be allowed to make reasonable attempts to provide a replacement Officiant at no additional cost to Client. In event Officiant must cancel this Agreement for Services, Client shall be refunded the full fees paid for the Services.
tl;dr: If you need to cancel, you can do that in writing up to 7 days before the wedding and get back anything you paid over and above the deposit. If you cancel less than 7 days before your wedding or don’t tell me in writing, I keep the money. If I can’t be at your ceremony due to illness or accident and I can’t get a replacement officiant or I need to cancel on you (extremely unlikely!), you get all your money back.
7. A guarantee
A bonus that I throw in from a marketing perspective is a 100% satisfaction guarantee. That is, if the couple doesn’t love their ceremony, they get 100% of their money back. To date, I’ve never had to issue a satisfaction guarantee refund. It’s a risk I personally take, and I figure it brings in more business than the odd refund would ever offset. I’m all about customer confidence.
This part of my contract spells out exactly what a client needs to do in order to collect their refund should they want it.
On the occasion that the Client is dissatisfied with Officiant’s Services at the Event, Client must notify the Officiant and provide the reason in both writing AND a personal phone call within 48 hours of the Event start time, and all money including Deposit will be refunded.
tl;dr: If you weren’t totally happy with your ceremony, let me know in writing and with a phone call within 48 hours of your wedding, and I’ll give you your money back.
8. Who’s responsible to bring extra equipment
There can be a lot of props and equipment for a wedding ceremony. And trust me, fellow officiant, we want nothing to do with assembling it. Being a wedding officiant means focus and preparation for our role at the front, not running around to Target and Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up supplies.
In this section of the contract, I make sure the couple know and are well aware that they are responsible for purchasing and bringing any props or things for any of the rituals I’ll be facilitating in their ceremony.
This may be different for you. I know some officiants who even bring their own PA systems. Or maybe you have a kit of some sort for rituals or religious elements. Cool! Just make it clear here who’s bringing what. Again, we’re doing all we can to avoid “But I thought you were bringing the _____!” an hour before the ceremony.
If the Event includes a sand ceremony, unity candle, flower ceremony and/or any other special feature, Client is responsible for furnishing all equipment needed to perform such feature(s).
tl;dr: You gotta bring your own extra props or elements for rituals in the ceremony.
9. Using pictures, scripts, and audio from the wedding
Much like wedding photographers who own 100% of the images they take (and ask the clients to sign off on it beforehand), I ask clients to agree to my retaining ownership of the content I create for them. That way, I can Instagram a bit before or after the ceremony, I can use their story for my podcast Unboring Wedding Day Love Stories, and I can even audio-record the ceremony and use it in some of my promotional stuff.
Some couples aren’t crazy about this, and they ask me to ask them first before I post anything from their wedding. Fair enough! Mission accomplished – now we’re on the same page in terms of expectations around what I can publish from their wedding. That’s the beauty of a contract.
Client agrees that Officiant may use any images and stories from the Event for any means of promotion, including advertising and display on websites or blogs, unless otherwise stated by Client in writing. Clients waive any right to payment, royalties or any other consideration for the use of the images or stories.
tl;dr: I can use photos and scripting from this wedding to promote Unboring!Wedding unless you say no.
10. Who gets and brings the marriage license
If there’s a signing part to the ceremony, we need to be clear that the couple knows who’s bringing the actual paperwork. In Ontario, only a person getting married can apply for and pick up their own marriage license.
It’s best that we agree in the contract who’s bringing the legal paperwork.
It is the Client’s responsibility to acquire a valid Ontario marriage license, if applicable, and have the marriage license at the Event when the Services are rendered.
tl;dr: You gotta get your own Ontario marriage license and bring it to the ceremony.
11. A promise to keep clients’ information safe and confidential
Privacy issues are huge in the online space, and especially when we’re collecting sensitive personal information via an e-commerce checkout page.
For my clients’ peace of mind, I promise them – at the end or the contract and Terms of Service, right before they’re about to send that sensitive info – that I will keep their info private and safe.
You are fully protected. Unboring!Wedding does not sell, trade, or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable or payment information.
tl;dr: What happens in Unboring!Wedding’s databases stays in Unboring!Wedding’s databases.
Boom! With a few copies, pastes, and modifications, you’re ready to offer a contract of your very own. Everyone’s expectations are in sync, and now we can focus on creating the best ceremony ever!