Destination I Do
Monday, September 3, 2018

Legally Protect Your Wedding Plans

Words by Ann Cosimano, ARAG’s General Counsel
Photos courtesy of ARAG

From the day you got engaged, you and your fiancée have envisioned the picture-perfect destination wedding: a week at a tropical resort, strolling barefoot on a sun-soaked beach and celebrating with close family and friends. It’s the stuff that fairy tales are made of. But what happens if your plans for an idyllic destination wedding start to come apart at the seams?

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That’s where being prepared and getting the details in writing will help immensely, according to Arati Furness, an ARAG® Network Attorney in Dallas, Texas. Furness has helped countless couples work through wedding snafus and offers the following tips to help you avoid similar problems that can wreck your plans.

Know the differences of a destination wedding.

A destination wedding usually involves more moving parts than having a ceremony close to where you live. “A destination wedding, whether it is in another state or another country, involves additional logistics and expenses, like complex travel arrangements and multiple hotel reservations for guests,” says Furness.

Legal requirements and procedures to get married also vary from country to country. You may have to conduct blood tests, establish temporary residency or produce specific documents such as a birth certificate or proof that previous relationships have ended due to circumstances such as death or divorce. Furness points out, “Make sure you are aware of the specific requirements, documents and timelines well before you arrive. The good news is if the marriage license was signed in another country, the U.S. will typically honor it as long as it is consistent with our laws. If you get married in the U.S., most states will allow you to apply for a marriage license locally, but you can then take that form to your destination for the officiant to sign.”

Be prepared — and have a plan B.

Unfortunately, planning a destination wedding means relying largely on phone calls, emails, online reviews and website slideshows when planning your ceremony. “All the more reason to get things in writing,” Furness says. “Focus less on what they are promising you online or over the phone and more on the details in the contract. Otherwise, if it’s not in writing, your options for recourse will be limited.”

Furness adds, “Be aware that any contract you sign will almost always have a choice of law provision. This means that as part of the contract terms, it indicates that if there is a problem, ‘the laws of the state of “X” will be binding.’ It is almost always the laws of the state where the vendor, caterer or hotel, etc. is located. So pay attention to the fine print, have a plan B in place and know what pitfalls you may encounter. For example, ask what happens in case of a surprise snowstorm in California or a power outage in Jamaica. Being proactive can be expensive, but it’s worth having an attorney read your contracts and make sure any amendments are also put in writing.”

To help minimize financial risk, Furness suggests using a credit card that offers a solid level of consumer protection, as there’s a good chance you’ll need to use the card to make reservations, pay for deposits, etc.

Know what to do if things go wrong.

Whether it’s a honeymoon suite that smells like a moldy basement or the work of a photographer that is decidedly subpar, sometimes bad destination weddings happen to good couples. What legal action can you take to rectify the situation or recoup your investment?

Your first step should be to talk to the vendor. It’s often your best bet to resolve the conflict peacefully. But if the conversation doesn’t go anywhere, Furness suggests using the power of social media. “Vendors who rely on positive word of mouth will generally try to dissuade you from posting negative comments about them, so they’re more willing to work things out. And if they’re not, an attorney can help you write a demand letter, which puts your complaint in writing and serves as a warning that if the vendor doesn’t return your money, you will take appropriate legal action.”

If you do need to get an attorney involved, he or she can work to get your money back and possibly additional damages and advise you on whether to take legal action. If you’re at the point of court intervention, check with your attorney about the statute of limitations, which varies depending on whether you’re suing for breach of contract, fraud or misrepresentation.

If you are married in a different country, keep in mind you are subject to local laws and there may not be as many legal protections as you would enjoy in the U.S. Furness recommends that you still have an attorney review the contract for you. “Even if he or she can’t practice law in that locale, they can help interpret what the law means and offer solutions to resolve the issue.”

One affordable way to get professional legal counsel is through a legal insurance plan from ARAG®, which offers coverage for consumer protection matters like these. You’ll also have access to attorneys who can inform you about your rights and help you decide the best course of action, so you can feel completely prepared and, most importantly, excited for every step of your wedding journey.

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