What Is the Correct Etiquette for Canceling a Wedding?

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The dress, the rings, the location, the reception, the honeymoon -- everything’s planned for the wedding of your dreams. However, there’s one possibility you probably didn’t anticipate: a cancelled wedding. Although it’s painful, it may be for the best. A UCLA study found that, after 4 years, husbands and wives who had pre-wedding jitters were less happily married than spouses who didn’t get cold feet. If you or your intended calls it off, you may eventually find yourself in a better place. Until that time, use these rules of etiquette to help you deal with all the responsibilities.

Sound the Alarm

Chances are you and your intended will be the first to know about the cancellation. After that, depending upon the size of your planned wedding, many people may need to be contacted. The first call -- not text or e-mail -- should go to whoever is helping you with the wedding, often your and your partner’s parents. You can also choose to deliver the news in person. Next, all the attendants need to be called, including the maid of honor, bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen and anyone else who has been asked to participate in the wedding or reception. Then the guests must be informed. If there’s time, a printed announcement can be mailed. If the date is coming up fast, call or even e-mail, if you know the guest won’t mind an electronic notice.

Give It Back

If the cancelled wedding wasn’t sad enough, now you have to face this: all gifts need to be returned. This includes engagement, shower and wedding presents. Packages should be mailed back to the sender with a short note of appreciation. You get bonus points if you return items to their places of purchase and have the cost credited to the buyers’ accounts. If you have already used the present, send the gift-giver a replacement or mail a check to cover the cost.

Ring Out the Old

When it comes to the engagement ring, etiquette and state law can differ. In some lawsuits, the ring went back to the giver. In other cases, the recipient maintained custody of the rock. It may even depend upon who called off the festivities. If you don’t want to make a case out of it, the ring should just be returned to the buyer -- or the owner, if it’s been passed down within a family.

Say No to the Dress

Unless the wedding has been cancelled very early, your attendants will have spent money on clothing, hotel accommodations and maybe even transportation. Etiquette calls for you to reimburse them for these costs. However, politeness runs both ways. It would be an indication of true friendship and empathy if, when the bride or groom offers repayment, the attendant says, “No, thank you.” This is a generous recognition of all the financial and emotional costs the friend has already been through.