Getting it in Writing from Vendors who Work on Island Time

We were lucky on Vieques Island last week — Hurricane Dean passed south of us and whomped the heck out of Jamaica instead of Puerto Rico. They weren’t calling for it to hit us, but we were inside the Tropical Storm Warning zone so we expected some heavy rain and high winds. We got a little bit of that on Saturday, but both Friday and Sunday were beautiful beach days.

Luckily, the wedding I helped plan last weekend was held on Sunday, so they weren’t bothered in the least by the weather. They did, however, have a little paperwork problem that I want to opine on before I move onto the tip of the week — getting contracts from your vendors.

Each Caribbean island has its own rules and regulations when it comes to getting your marriage license. Even Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has a few requirements (like any state) such as blood tests and paperwork you’re required to submit with your application for a marriage license. If you’re using a wedding planner, the planner should give you the list of what you’ll need for your marriage license very early in the process, like as soon as you’ve hired them.

Don’t put off pulling together your paperwork until the last minute. In Puerto Rico, you’re required to provide copies of divorce decrees (all of them, not just your latest) and copies of death certificates if either the bride or groom has been widowed. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to get a copy of a divorce decree or a death certificate. Most larger counties and cities have an online service for getting copies of these, but many of them require you to show up and stand in line for God knows how long so that you can pay dearly to get a copy of a document you never should have lost in the first place (just teasing). With that said, you should take the initiative and get your paperwork together months in advance of your wedding date so that it’s one less thing to worry about when you get into that nerve-wracking last stretch.

I started out this rant because although the wedding was beautiful last weekend, the bride and groom didn’t get all their paperwork together in time, despite the fact that they had more than two months to do it. Therefore, they didn’t get legally married. Because they had guests traveling in from all over for their wedding, they went ahead and had a ceremony and reception and didn’t tell any of their guests about their little snafu. Now it’s up to them to get the proper paperwork together and either come back to Vieques to legally seal the deal, or go to their local Justice of the Peace and make it all legit.

For this bride and groom, it wasn’t the end of the world. They laughed about it and put their energy into enjoying their special day, legal or not. For others, it would have been a total nightmare. For example, my bride and groom who came to Vieques to be married on 7-7-07 would have been completely crushed if a paperwork problem had prevented them from getting legally married on the luckiest day of the millennium.

The moral of the story — preparing your paperwork for your marriage license – is just as important as getting your wedding gown. Don’t put it off!

Okay, for the topic of the day — getting contracts from vendors. It’s a dry one folks, but it’s important.

When I first started planning weddings on Vieques — my own wedding in fact — it’s safe to say that vendor contracts were the exception, not the rule. I met with each vendor individually, and we agreed on prices and services, but when I asked for a written contract, each and every vendor looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. A few of them kindly created brief contracts and sent them by email, but most really didn’t understand why their word wasn’t good enough. On an island with a year-round population of about 8,000 people, a businessperson’s word is supposed to be good as gold. Almost all business is done with a smile and a handshake, and a surprising amount of business is conducted on a cash-only basis.

With that said, as the client purchasing the vendor’s services, you are entitled to something in writing that delineates exactly what service the vendor is providing, when the deposit and balance are due, and what form of payment is expected. If a vendor won’t provide a contract, you can write up something simple yourself and send it to the vendor to sign and return to you. At the very least, see if the vendor has email and exchange well-written and specific emails about the details of your service agreement with the vendor. In a worst-case scenario, at least you’ll have something in writing to back you up. Whenever possible, use a credit card to make your deposit and balance payments to your vendors. Your credit card company will act as your advocate if something goes wrong and you need to recoup some of your expenses.

Until next time… happy wedding planning!


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