By: Brandon Shelton
Several years ago, before everyone from third graders to your grandparents had the world wide web at their fingertips, the single mingling population had but one option to search for a mate: walk out into the world and find that person. That’s not to say there weren’t other modified versions of that option, such as blind dates set up by a friend or socialite matchmakers, but the vast majority of our quests for companionship relied upon chance and fate that you would run into someone that complimented you in just the right way.
The modern world is quite different. The birth of the internet became an opportunity for companies to create technology to bridge the gap between you and that person. Indeed, the emergence of the dating app culture has all but eliminated the reliance upon meeting via happenstance. In this world, perhaps you have had the foresight to see a specific gap in the dating world, and you are certain that your idea for an online dating service will be one that substantially disrupts the dating services market. If so, by all means, you should pursue that endeavor. However, in doing so, you should be aware of a lesser known law in California governing dating services.
In particular, California Civil Code Sections 1694-1694.4 provide rules around how dating services may engage with its customers. Assuming your business engages with its customers through a “dating service contract,” which could be interpreted by a court rather broadly, several subsections of these statutes relate to what must be included in the contract itself. Under Section 1694.1(b), such dating service contracts must include “in close proximity to the space reserved for the signature of the buyer, a conspicuous statement in a size equal to at least 10-point boldface type, as follows:
“You, the buyer, may cancel this agreement, without any penalty or obligation, at any time prior to midnight of the original contract seller’s third business day following the date of this contract, excluding Sundays and holidays. To cancel this agreement, mail or deliver a signed and dated notice, or send a telegram which states that you, the buyer, are canceling this agreement, or words of similar effect. This notice shall be sent to: (Name of the business that sold you the contract) (Address of the business that sold you the contract).””
Cal. Civ. Code § 1694.1(b).
This language relates to a mandatory three-day “cooling off” period that would allow your customers to cancel their dating services contracts. The idea is that customers of dating service providers should have the ability to rethink whether or not they feel the need to pay for such services (even if that is the cultural norm at this point).
Additionally, you must also include language that a buyer or their estate should also have the ability to be relieved of any payment obligations in the event of death or disability, and further must have the right to be reimbursed for any unused prepaid services in such an event. Cal. Civ. Code § 1694.3(a). You must also give the customer a right to cancel if they move when the move renders the services unfeasible. Cal. Civ. Code § 1694.3(b). In addition, you must include your company’s address conspicuously on the first page of the contract. Cal. Civ. Code § 1694.2(c).
While there is some caselaw out there that suggests a court may expect a customer to actually benefit from these provisions in order to bring a successful claim, the statutes are written in such a way that could very well invalidate your entire contract if you fail to include that language. Under Section 1694.4(a), “[a]ny contract for dating services which does not comply with this chapter is void and unenforceable.” These statutory requirements are also not available to any waiver. Cal. Civ. Cod § 1694.4(e). You should be very careful and deliberate in writing any contract for dating services, whether they be in person or provided online. In the case of online dating services, you will likely want to make sure that you specifically direct your users’ attention to your Terms of Service, perhaps by a click through screen at the time of engagement, and include the language and terms required by Sections 1694-1694.4. There are several other limitations imposed by these chapters, for which you should seek an attorney’s assistance in interpreting to ensure full compliance, as a failure to do so could completely void your contract, leaving you without any recourse in anticipated payments.
Disclaimer: This article discusses general legal issues, but it does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Bend Law Group, PC expressly disclaims all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this article.