What To Do When a Client Wants Out of a Contract

Dear Jasmine,
A question for you. How do you respond if a client tries to back out of a contract? I have clients that want to “downsize” their destination wedding (a Saturday next May) and say they only want me for 1 1/2 hours, after a full day contract was signed . And they don't want to pay any more than what they have already in their original deposit. They have asked me to open the date back up and if I rebook, to refund their deposit. Which is CLEARLY stated, and was restated by me at the time of our meeting, that it is non-refundable. What is the norm? Am I a bad, unsympathetic person for not refunding their money or just a reasonable business owner for sticking to my contract? I've already turned down a contract that would have booked with me, but that was 2 months ago.
Downsized in May

Dear Downsized,
Based on the scenario you presented, my gut reaction is that the clients want to use another photographer or simply not have one at all. Something happened in the course of your business relationship, resulting in them changing from full day wedding coverage to only wanting 1.5 hours…or to opening the date to someone else.
That tells me they want out.
And when someone wants out that badly, I give it to them. Honestly. I haven't been in your situation, but life is too short to work with people who don't appreciate what you do. As you might imagine, shooting the wedding will be like pulling teeth because you know they really didn't want you there.
If I were in your position, I'd tell them I'll open their wedding date. If I get rebooked, they'll get 100% of their retainer (minus the cost of an engagement session if that service has been rendered).
If the date isn't booked, I'd still shoot the wedding in May if they wanted me to. However, legally you're only entitled to your retainer, so if the clients don't want to pay more than the retainer and it's a reasonable fee for 1.5 hours, then that's what the wedding will become. You can't legally force someone to opt into more since the work hasn't been done yet…nor would you want to if they're already expressing serious doubt.
I understand you're in a tough situation, but trust your gut. If you suspect working with clients who want out may harm your business more than it will help, it may be best to cut your losses and keep your head held high. I believe it's better to work with two clients who believe in your work than 20 clients who just want wedding photos. You got this.
Stay Fabulous,