Dear Money Helps: My husband and I were married in March 2006 in California. It was perfect except for one thing: We still haven't received our wedding album! We hired a photographer a friend recommended and paid him $2,300 up front. The first three times we called, he promised to send our photos. Then he told my husband he couldn't afford to print our album. Now he won't return our calls or respond to e-mails. What can we do? --Stacia Johnson, Provo, Utah
Answer: You can count on something to go awry at your wedding no matter how carefully you plan. Now if the florist had delivered ragweed instead of sunflowers or the band had played "Hell's Bells" as your processional, you might have been able to laugh it off - eventually. Not receiving your photos, on the other hand, is a true wedding disaster.
I too had trouble getting in touch with your photographer, Jacob Boikian of Pasadena. After I left several messages, however, we finally connected. He admitted he'd run into financial problems but promised to make good on your contract. After a few more follow-ups, he did, delivering the album in September.
Had Money not intervened, you might have tried employing the power of word of mouth. Photographers, caterers, bands and other wedding vendors rely on referrals to get business. So a threat that you'd drop an e-mail to local event planners and post complaints on major discussion boards might well bring an errant contractor to heel, says Kathleen Murray of wedding site TheKnot.com.
And as a last resort, you could've taken Boikian to small-claims court, which generally has jurisdiction in cases involving less than $5,000 in property or damages. After paying a small fee, you'd have been able to ask a judge to force Boikian to release the album. Your contract would have helped you make the case. Since Boikian works in California, you'd have had to file there and absorb the travel costs, so it's lucky the situation got resolved before this point. Just consider it our belated wedding gift to you.
Tip: Use friends and family for referrals, but do some homework too. Google the vendor; check discussion boards at theknot.com, weddingchannel. com and the like; and visit your local Better Business Bureau site.
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