What to do with Divorced Parents!

Dear Alene,

If a divorced couple’s son or daughter gets married, what is the proper etiquette regarding who to include? For instance, who comes to the rehearsal dinner? What about seating? Who participates in the wedding? Who pays what? If the parents of the groom sit on one side of the church, and the parents of the bride on the other, how do you seat the estranged parents, whether they are alone or remarried?



Dear Sally, As more bride’s and groom’s are having to deal with this issue, it is most timely to have a frank discussion of how to maneuver through this sticky topic.

First off, we can hardly look at the etiquette books of our grandmother’s day for help, as this was not even a subject to be discussed. But, what we can look at is what etiquette is all about. I think this will help guide us in making appropriate decisions. As I have said before, etiquette is not just a bunch of rules, but is truly about making people feel comfortable with one another.

So, how to make everyone feel comfortable, in a somewhat disconcerting situation, is really the question. My suggestion is for the bride and groom to have an honest discussion with each parent involved. The goal is to find out what will make that parent feel at ease.

There is no reason why they have to be seated near each other and as you can imagine, these can be very volatile issues. There are very likely wounds that have not healed, and it can be most difficult for a parent to anticipate seeing the ex, or soon-to-be ex, that caused so much pain. Not only having to see them, but sit with them, or even worse, their new partner.

Traditionally, it is up to the bride’s parents to pay for the wedding and reception, and the groom’s parents to host the rehearsal dinner. All traditional roles would still apply regardless of a divorce. It is up to the parents to figure out who will contribute. All parents would be invited to the rehearsal dinner, as well as ceremony and reception. But that again is up to each parent, along with the bride and groom, to decide what they are comfortable with.

Once the bride and groom know who is able and willing to “play nice” and who isn’t, then they can decide if all parents sit together at the rehearsal dinner, on the front row at the wedding itself, or if they split them between the first and second rows. I definitely advise all mothers to be seated in the first row, with current husbands to be seated with them. Father and stepmothers are frequently seated in the first row as well, unless one or the other will be very uncomfortable, and then the father and his wife can be seated in the second row.

The most important thing here is not to alienate, chastise, or judge the other parents or their feelings. Hopefully all the parents will do the best they can, as I am sure that no one wants to ruin their child’s wedding day. My hope is that all parents are able to put their feelings aside, if just for one day, and do whatever is possible to bring about peace and harmony.