7 Rules for Calling Off Your Wedding at the Last Minute

Billionaire Estee Lauder founder Leonard Lauder cancelled his wedding to his girlfriend at the last minute. Apparently they called guests a few weeks before the wedding to say it was being "postponed," which is code for "ain't gonna happen." I can only imagine that the billionaire and his lady friend must have been planning an elaborate ceremony, with people flying in from everywhere to attend. They probably left a lot of people holding the bag for hotel rooms, tickets, gifts, dresses, etc. But you don't have to be a billionaire to find yourself right smack in the middle of a messy change of heart. What do you do when you decide to cancel your wedding? Here are 7 rules of thumb.


1. Yes, you have to notify everyone. Although it might be tempting to crawl into a hole and disappear for a month, you can't do it. And you have to let them know the wedding is cancelled in no uncertain terms. While some etiquette books recommend saying the wedding is "postponed," I disagree. After my friend called me years ago and left a cryptic message that her wedding was "postponed," I -- like a good bridesmaid -- kept waiting for the call that would let me know when it was back on. My friend, who was understandably embarrassed and avoiding phone calls, was short on details. So I sat on the gift and dress until it was too late to return either. Needless to say, there was no new wedding date. And yes, you can have someone else, like your mother or a friend, do the notifying.

2. No, you don't need to give people a reason. Your friends and family will no doubt get very nosy at this time, and with good reason. You mean you and Chuck, whom you've been with since eighth grade, aren't getting married?? Did he cheat? Did you? Is he gay? Are you? Well, it's none of their business. But you do need to be polite. People will be concerned and curious. Tell them you appreciate their concern, you are fine, but right now you need to deal with the details and will call them in the future if you need to talk.

3. Don't postpone telling people! Let's say you and your fiance are suddenly going back and forth on it. You've got three weeks 'til the wedding. Don't decide to wait until the very last minute. Although it seems counterintuitive to press someone who is suddenly having second thoughts, now is the time to say, "My parents, friends, family are about to buy non-refundable tickets, non-refundable hotel rooms, and gifts for us. I appreciate that you are confused right now and having second thoughts, but it's best if we stop people from spending money they may not get back." None of this is easy with a waffling fiance, but this isn't the time to coddle.

4. Yes, you need to give everything back. All gifts you've already received need to be sent back. All money -- even if you've already spent it on your honeymoon -- needs to be returned. I had a hard time finding any guidelines for what is surely one of the most difficult decisions -- do you pay people back for monies they have already spent for things like tickets, hotel rooms, dresses, that they may not be able to return, even if this means you will be paying off this debt forever? I say yes. You should at least OFFER. Most people will be understanding and let it go. They want you to be happy. But for the people who want their money back, tell them you will get it to them as soon as you can.

5. The ring. Laws vary by state. In some states, it's considered a gift and is yours to keep. In others, it's considered a promise of marriage, and if the marriage doesn't happen, the ring isn't yours to keep. I generally find that it depends on who calls off the wedding and why. I do tend to feel like if you find out something about your fiance that prevents you from getting married (like he's cheating; he's gay; he's secretly a woman; etc.), then you should get to keep the ring. Or if he calls it off for no good reason.

6. If you call it off, you pay up. I had a friend who called off his wedding to his fiancé at the last minute -- for no real reason other than he suddenly got cold feet. He then spent the next couple of years trying to get HER to pay off the debt they'd both accrued in booking a venue, band, and other incidentals that they couldn't get full refunds for. He felt that since SHE was the one who wanted that venue, wanted that band, SHE should pay at least half of the debt. Wrong. SHE wanted to get married. YOU didn't, for no reason other than you didn't -- which is a valid reason, but doesn't mean she should get stuck with debt for a wedding you didn't want. If you call it off for nothing your fiance DID (like cheat or you find out something horrible), then you should pay.

7. No, it's not okay to throw a "pre-wedding divorce party" and keep all of the gifts and expect everyone to come because, hey, they had those hotel rooms anyway. Just no.

Have you ever dealt with a cancelled wedding?


Image via rocksee/Flickr

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