5 On Your Side

Protect your investment when planning a wedding

Posted February 15, 2021 5:10 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2021 6:28 p.m. EST

— Many families and couples invest tens of thousands of dollars in their wedding day.

Now, many have learned with so much pandemic uncertainly, it’s important to take steps to protect that investment.

Jessica and Christian McCullen, of Raleigh, got married on Nov. 21, 2020, just as they originally planned in 2019. But it was not the wedding nor location they originally wanted and spent thousands of dollars on.

"We don’t want anyone else to go through what we have been through," said Jessica McCullen, after reaching out to 5 On Your Side for help getting a resolution to an ongoing dispute with her original venue.

Back in 2019, the couple booked Market Hall in downtown Raleigh. They expected and paid to have 200 guests. Between two payments, they paid $15,765 in deposits.

Ultimately, COVID-19 crushed those plans.

Executive orders meant they could only have 50 people, but Market Hall expected them to pay the same amount for the much smaller crowd. After back and forth negotiations broke down, the family decided to back out of those original plans.

"We said, 'There’s no way we can have the event that we had planned and that we had signed the contract for,' so at that point we asked about cancellation," said Jessica McCullen’s mother, Beth Rea.

The family said that even though they had no trouble getting their money back from other vendors they worked with, Market Hall denied the refund they wanted.

Attorney Mike Tadych represents the couple and WRAL-TV.

"You wouldn’t pay at the first window at McDonald’s and then drive up and they say, 'Eh, you know, we, we can’t give you your food, drive along now, " said Tadych. "No, give me my money back. Put it in simplest terms, that’s what happened here. I think they [the family] need to be understanding, but they also don’t need to pay for things that they didn’t get."

Because of crowd restrictions, Tadych said he believes the family is entitled to a full refund for three reasons.

"One, it would be impossible. Another, it would be illegal and the third, it being impractical," he explained.

The venue offered to postpone to 2021 – with a $1,000 re-booking charge and new, higher prices.

Frustrated and wanting to move on in November, the family settled on a partial refund of $8765.38.

"Here we are today, and we still have nothing back," said Jessica McCullen.

WRAL reached out to attorney Ben Worley, who represents Market Hall, and asked why the venue felt it’s fair to keep $7,000 of what the Reas paid, since the venue could not accommodate 200 people.

Worley called the partial refund in a statement a "gesture of good faith," saying that "Market Hall could have met its obligations pursuant to the contract."

When asked how, he did not provide an answer.

For others planning weddings right now, Tadych shared three points to consider when signing contracts:

Look at what the agreement has to say and, look for, do we terminate, if we terminate, do I get any money back?

Make a contingency plan. If it’s not going to happen at this venue, what are we going to do? If the rules don’t change or they get more restrictive, how are we going to deal with this?

Make an assessment. Is this business going to stay afloat? If I’m concerned about it, give them as little money as possible until they need to perform because you may not get it back.

He also suggested checking online reviews and complaints.

As for McCullen’s refund, after 5 On Your Side reached out, Market Hall finally refunded the settlement amount of $8,700. But in yet another frustrating twist, per the contract, the money was refunded to a credit card the family happened to close last year.

Now they must wait for the bank to process the error and send them a check.

The family said they'll feel complete relief when they finally have that $8,700 in hand.

Until then, Jessica McCullen has personal advice for planning a wedding during a pandemic.

"Plan small and really have hard conversations up front with your venue before you sign a contract," she said.

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