Calling off your wedding may not be the easy choice, but sometimes it’s the best choice. It doesn’t always mean that you don’t love the other person—just that you can’t be with them in that capacity. No matter the reason or who calls it off, you’ll still have to go through the process of canceling your wedding. Below, we outline the four not-so-simple steps of calling off your wedding.
Calling off a wedding isn’t as overwhelming as planning a wedding, but it’s still a lot of work, so we recommend taking one step at a time and getting lots of help! In general, weddings that are farther out will be easier to cancel. You probably have fewer vendors booked, and official invitations may be unsent. (Guests don’t book travel until they get the official invite, so you won’t have to worry about that!) But if your wedding date is fast-approaching, you will, unfortunately, have to move quickly to save as much money as possible and help guests do the same.
Of course, you don’t have to do them all yourself. You may choose to split responsibilities between you and your former partner, or you may ask friends and family to help. (Even if you’re splitting tasks, you’ll still want help! This may be an emotional time for you and you’ll need their support.) But we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with Step 1 and go from there!
Take a Deep Breath
Whether you’re calling off your wedding or your partner is, this is a big life change and certainly not where you thought you’d be. On top of that, there’s a lot of work to do in the coming weeks—so take a deep breath and process what’s going on. If you’re comfortable with it, tell one or two close friends or family members who can help you navigate the news before you start telling anyone or dive into that to-do list.
You may not be able to wait too long, especially if your wedding is only weeks away. But try to take an afternoon (or a few!) for yourself, and remind yourself that you can make it through this. Things might be weird or sad or confusing, but you’ll make it to the other side. Plus, we’re here to help make that happen! We can’t hold your hand or buy you a drink, but we can walk you through the next three steps of officially calling off your wedding.
Tell Your Immediate Family First
At some point, you will have to start telling your guests. We recommend starting with close friends and family. Really, it includes anyone who helped plan your big day or is a part of it themselves. The wedding party, your parents, and wedding planners should be the first people you tell for two reasons. First, they’re your family! And they’ll be able to help you through all the un-planning to make it just a little easier. Second, they’re the most involved in your special day. (Aside from you and your partner, of course!) Telling them first gives them plenty of time to cancel any travel plans and even help you tell everyone else.
How do I tell them?
In a perfect world, you’d tell them in person or over the phone. That way, they can find out sooner and you have a chance to give them an explanation if you choose to. No one needs an explanation, but you may want to talk with your close friends and family about it, and a phone call or coffee date lets that happen.
In some instances, it may be too painful to talk about. And while we still recommend telling close friends and family about it in person (phone calls count!), make it clear that you aren’t ready to talk about it and that you’re just letting them know for planning purposes.
How do I tell everyone else?
The closer the wedding date is, the sooner that guests need to know. This gives them the maximum amount of time to cancel any hotel rooms or plane rides. If your wedding date is 4-6 weeks away, calling and emailing guests is the best way to notify them. You may choose to follow up with a formal mailed notice, but that shouldn’t be your priority—quickness is the priority for weddings that are fast approaching.
Bonus Tip: Remember, you don’t have to explain the situation to anyone! (Except for your betrothed; they deserve it.)
For weddings that are 6+ weeks away, a mailed notice is acceptable—but get them in the mail ASAP. You can, of course, still call or email guests; close friends and family members who weren’t involved in the planning will appreciate the more personal approach. But, from a timing perspective, it’s not necessary.
You don’t have to do it alone, either! You can ask your BFF to be on the phone while you make the calls or ask your parents to call extended family. If you’re not the one calling, it may discourage nosy questions about the circumstances.
Call Your Vendors
Once you’ve told your guests (or while you’re going down the list, depending on how long it is!) you’ll need to contact your vendors. Start with the vendors with the most strict cancellation policies. Specifically, the ones who require the most lead time to get any refund. Look through all your contracts and see which ones require the longest lead time to receive any sort of refund—and start there.
Let’s say, for example, that your wedding date is seven months away. But if you cancel your venue within six months, you’ll only be charged for 50% of the total costs. On the other hand, your florist will give you a partial refund up to one month before the wedding. Call the venue first! Start with the vendors that need the most time, and work backwards from there.
Will I get my money back?
Honestly, it’s unlikely that you will get all of your money back. In most cases, deposits are non-refundable. (There may be exceptions for extreme circumstances or life changes, but those are rare.) You may also be able to use the deposit as a credit for a future event—but don’t rely on that. Plus, it can lead to the tricky question of, “Which one of us gets to use the credit?”
In general, the further away your wedding date is, the more likely it is that you’ll only owe a portion of the total quoted costs. No matter what, always consult your contracts! They should provide you with the cancellation policies, including the costs and timeline.
Can I still go on my honeymoon?
You may not want to travel with your former partner—no one would expect you to! But you may not have to cancel the honeymoon, either. As you’re going through the wedding assets (covered in the next section), you may decide that one of you gets the caterer deposit back while the other one of you goes on the honeymoon. Or, you may decide to downgrade from a honeymoon suite and each travel independently to the location.
If you split the cost of the honeymoon when you booked it and one of you still wants to take it, you should find a way to compensate the other party for their half. If neither of you wants to use it, then you may be able to get some money back or split a credit for future use.
Go Through Your Wedding Items
Depending on how close your wedding date is, you may have decorations at your house or even a wedding dress. You’ll need to sort through all of that and decide what you’re keeping and what you’re tossing. You may even need to figure out how to split it, if it’s valuable.
This is definitely something to ask for help with! Depending on your circumstances, doing it alone can be, well, lonely. It can also be a lot of work. You may not be emotionally ready to sort through it all, so storing everything in a storage unit or a friend’s attic might be the best immediate step.
Do I have to return wedding gifts?
Yes, you should return any unused or unopened engagement, shower, or wedding gifts to the guests who gave them with a thank-you note explaining that you’re calling off your wedding. If you’re notifying guests via mail, this counts as your notification. But if you are calling guests, this doesn’t count!
Bonus Tip: Postage will be expensive, so include it as part of the joint costs as you wrap up the details.
Of course, some items may be used and unable to return—so we recommend sending a thank-you note and consider adding a gift card to the store where the item was purchased.
What happens to the wedding dress?
If you’ve already bought a wedding dress and you paid for it yourself, you can decide to keep the dress. After all, you didn’t actually get married in it, so there aren’t any memories attached to it—only daydreams. If it’s your perfect dress, the circumstances might not matter!
Much like your deposits, you likely won’t be able to return it. You can try and sell it to recoup some of the money, though. But this depends on who you purchased the dress with. If someone else bought the dress for you or split the cost with you, you’ll have to discuss it with them. For example, if you canceled the wedding, they may ask for the wedding dress money back. On the other hand, if your fiancé canceled the wedding, they may seek money from your former partner.
What about the ring?
Typically, if the ring-wearer cancels the wedding, the ring is returned to the ring-giver. But if the ring-giver cancels the wedding, it’s up to the ring-wearer whether to return it or not. (They may not want the reminder!) If you split the cost of the ring, this is another thing to add to the asset list, and you should sell the ring and split the profit. However, if the ring is a family heirloom, it should be returned to the family to which it belongs—no matter who’s calling off your wedding.
There are a lot of little details to handle when you un-plan a wedding, but remember to take it one day at a time. Try to keep communication open with your former partner–just until the details are all sorted–and ask friends and family for help when you need it!
What step are you at? What do you have questions about?