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Frustration of Purpose and COVID-19 Cancellations in California


There is no doubt about it. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on just about every aspect of American society. Across the country, schools and “non-essential” businesses are closed. Museums, libraries, concert halls and movie theaters are all off limits. Access to restaurants is limited. Parks and beaches are closed in many places.

Since March, Californians have been following government mandates and staying home to help slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. For now, social distancing is the new norm. For now, large gatherings are still prohibited. For now quarantines remain in effect, forcing the cancellation or postponement of even our most joyous celebrations.

Impact on California weddings

Like so many others disrupted by the pandemic, the U.S. wedding industry is big business. In ordinary circumstances, it generates billions  in annual revenue. This is not surprising, considering the average cost of a wedding here was $44,000 just two years ago.

Given that 2 million weddings are held in the United States on average each year, the industry’s current plight is clear. The dilemma facing countless brides and grooms is also readily apparent.

For example, one would-be bride and groom from San Francisco was supposed to tie the knot in Kauai last month. They quickly adapted to the current state of affairs by hosting  “virtual reception” on what would have been their wedding day, instead. They are still hoping to have the actual wedding ceremony in Kauai later this year, if possible.

Meanwhile, across California, experts  are urging couples with upcoming wedding dates to consider postponing or rescheduling their ceremonies and receptions.

Vendors are also giving them incentive to do so. For instance, one Los Angeles florist is giving wedding customers store credit to be used in any way they like. A catering company is giving clients approximately one year to reschedule with all current payments applied toward a rescheduled event, regardless of any other contractual stipulations. Management of a private event venue in L.A. is also are offering all clients booked through this month the opportunity to rebook their event within the next 18 months. Clients that do so will not be penalized for rescheduling.

Cancellations, contracts and future payments

With ongoing uncertainty about any return to normalcy, however, you may be wondering if you should cancel your wedding plans for the foreseeable future rather than rescheduling. You my also be wondering how a cancellation would affect any pending payments. The answer is that it depends on how any relevant contracts are written and the willingness of the service provider to accommodate your request. In some cases, a vendor may be reluctant to void a booking entirely because of the “hard costs” associated with planning.

One consideration from a legal perspective is the application of a principle called frustration of purpose. In California, it may be used when:

  • It is still possible to fulfill the terms of the contract; but
  • An unexpected ensuing circumstance hindered the main reason you and the other party entered into the terms of the contract; and
  • It effectively negates the value of performance by the responsible party.


Factors used to determine whether frustration of purpose is a viable legal argument include:

  • The purpose of the contract; and
  • Whether the ensuing event was foreseeable.


To learn more about your legal options if the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation or postponement of your wedding or a similar event, contact us today.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.