What You Should Know about Wedding-Related Lawsuits in Small Claims Court
What makes these small claims cases difficult is that the problem arises at a once in a lifetime event. Even if you get married more than once, this particular wedding is still a unique one-time occurrence.
When you break off the engagement — and keep the ring
The issue in these cases is that when the engagement is broken, the potential groom wants either the ring or its value back. Other than to torture the guy, why would you want to keep it?
Under the common law, courts often look to see which one of the parties was at fault. So if your future spouse was caught at the No-Tell Motel, as the innocent party, you can either keep the ring or get it back. Finding out there was a stripper at the bachelor/bachelorette party is one of those cases that could go either way.
These days, many courts look to see if the ring was a gift in contemplation of marriage or just a gift. If a gift in contemplation of marriage and the marriage doesn’t take place, the person giving the ring can get it back. And in many states this is irrespective of the issue of fault. If it is just a gift, then the recipient can keep it.
Lawyers always advise not giving an engagement ring on your future spouse’s birthday, Christmas, or some other holiday or event when it can be argued that it was given simply as a gift unrelated to any marriage plans.
Invariably, if the future bride refuses to return the ring or claims it was lost, then the issue becomes the value of the ring. Suddenly the ring, which was purchased at a discount jeweler on a side street in the diamond district, now has appraisals from high-end jewelers. In most cases, you can only recover what you paid for the ring.
Another problem arises if the ring is a family heirloom given as an engagement ring. In these cases, courts are more inclined to order the ring be returned because it has sentimental value to the person giving it, and this fact can cause it to be worth more than its market value because it’s a unique item.
Another problem with engagement rings and jewelry in general is that the seller gives an appraisal and then the buyer has someone else look at it and guess what — it appraises for less than you paid.
An appraisal is only someone’s opinion. So if there are two competing appraisals, and you want to prove your point, go get a third appraisal. And try to use legitimate appraisers and not some guy who hung a tear-off sign at the local supermarket.
Also, don’t be surprised if you get stuck with a ring of dubious quality if you bought from the guy with the moveable jewelry store on the corner, with the appraisal from his brother-in-law. If a bargain seems too good to be true, it probably is.
How to get refunds when wedding plans go wrong
Lawsuits arise when the bridal party doesn’t get exactly what it bargained for. In most cases, the defendant — the caterer, the bridal dress seller, the photographer, the disc jockey (DJ), the reception site — has partially performed or delivered what it believes it agreed to but you’re dissatisfied with the outcome.
Obviously, if you were supposed to have filet mignon as the main course and got chicken, an adjustment of the bill should be made. But if you order 100 pictures and for some reason there only are 90, and certain shots were never taken, a 10 percent reduction in the bill won’t make you happy.
Some redo’s just aren’t possible. You can’t recapture the moment of getting the cake pushed in your face if the photographer missed it. The fact that in this day and age everyone at the reception captured the moment on their cellphones doesn’t relieve the professional photographer from having to perform.
If there was partial performance by the defendant, in most cases you won’t get all of your money back. So be prepared to compromise when you get to court and the judge asks if you can resolve the matter. Try these:
Carefully read the contract over and understand what it says before you sign. If you want something added, make sure you put it in writing and don’t rely on the word of the person you’re dealing with. What happens if your day turns out to be that person’s day off?
Check whether the business is supposed to be licensed. If it’s supposed to be licensed and isn’t and is suing you for payment, then of course it can’t collect any money due no matter how well it performed.
Make sure you know whom you’re dealing with. Some businesses are middlemen who contract with third parties to provide services such as the limousine, the photographer, or the musicians/DJ.
Be prepared to bring in an expert to establish the diminished value of what you received.
Examples of ways wedding arrangements can lead to lawsuits include:
You contract to have a 1940 Rolls Royce at your wedding. The defendant shows you pictures of the car. On your wedding day, a yellow Checker Cab shows up. You want your money back. The small print of the contract says the defendant has the right to substitute another vehicle based on availability. If she says the Rolls had mechanical problems, how are you going to prove it didn’t?
If you want a particular vehicle, flowers, photographer, or ballroom, specify it in the agreement and make sure that the defendant agrees to it in writing. You probably still won’t get all of your money back if you don’t get what you want. You still received some benefit, albeit not what you planned on, so it still has some value to you.