Wedding Etiquette if Your Parents are Divorced

It can be difficult to keep people happy when you are planning any wedding: if either the bride or the groom’s parents are divorced you may well be treading on egg shells throughout the organisation process.

Of course, you may be lucky and the divorced parents have moved on, or at least have learned to put up with each other for their children’s sake. Unfortunately this is not always the case and the presence of the other parent and their family may really cause upset.

If your parents are divorced the wedding arrangements should depend on your relationship with your parents, step-parents and step-siblings, but unfortunately weddings can bring back a lot of memories and bad-feeling.

You will need to decide what works for your family. You need to make people feel comfortable, so you may need to break wedding traditions to keep the peace. You need to go with what feels right for you and you need to explain your decisions to your parents.

Here is our guide to some of the options than can help you through these tricky situations.

1.    Invitation wording – the wedding invitation is sent from the person/people who are hosting (paying for) the wedding.  If you and your fiancé are paying for it all you do not need to mention any parents at all. If both your divorced parents are contributing the invitation should be from both of them but they should be listed separately. See our previous blog “Wedding Invitation Wording Etiquette” for some examples. If you have been brought up by a step-parent and they are contributing financially they should be included as a host.

2.    Guest List – You and your fiancé need to agree your own rules for the guest list. If either of your parents has re-married or has a long-term partner, etiquette suggests the partner should be invited. But this can cause friction, particularly if the new partner was the cause for the divorce, so you may decide not to invite them. Either way, it is virtually impossible not to upset someone, so you need to discuss what you have decided with your parents before the invitations go out, explain why you have made the decision and try to accommodate their concerns.

3.    The Bridal Party – if you have a number of step-siblings or half brothers and sisters this can become a source of friction. Decide with your fiancé who you want as bridesmaids and ushers – you may decide to keep things simple and just have friends in your bridal party – then there is no favouritism

4.    Seating Plan – If it is a church wedding there is a traditional seating arrangement with close relatives at the front and bride and groom’s family at different sides. It may be that a diplomatic solution to keeping parents and their families apart is to not have bride or groom sides and just ask guests to sit wherever they like. If one of your parents are likely to get upset at the presence of the other make sure family and friends are seated close to them.

5.    Giving Away the Bride – if you don’t want your father to give you away you don’t have to. If your step-father has brought you up you can ask him, alternatively both your father and step-father can walk you down the aisle, or you can ask your mother, another relative or whoever you like. A sibling maybe a good compromise.

6.    Table Plan – One way to accommodate parents’ concerns is to seat them on separate tables. Your parents (and new partners) can sit at a table with their relatives and friends, make sure the table is equally close to the top table so that they feel equally important. This option means that you are not showing preferences on the top table and it means that each parent has their own network of friends and relatives around them to offer support. A written seating plan and place names really come into their own when there may be family conflict as you can keep parties separate for most of the reception.

7.    Photographs  – you will meet with the photographer beforehand to discuss which family pictures you would like. They will have dealt with this situation many times before and will be very good at advising you. Chances are you will need a photo with each of your parents and their relatives separately.

8.    Receiving line – this tradition is becoming less popular, so you can easily do away with it. Just make sure that as you circulate during the reception you spend time with both parents.

9.    Toast – if it will cause problems as to whether your dad or step-dad toasts the bride, ask the best man to do it and get rid of the father-of-the-bride speech totally.

10.    Parents Dance – again this is not necessary, particularly if one of your parents is single. Just make sure you tell the band/DJ that you are not having it.

Your wedding day should be one of the happiest days of your life. By breaking some rules and making some compromises there is no reason why your parents won’t help you do this, after all they are there for your big day.

Photo credit: Alamy

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