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Etiquette 101: Sticky Situations

092914-reception-01Whether it’s divorced parents who are still at war or an aunt who insists your cousin should be one of the bridesmaids, there are many tricky situations that can arise while you’re planning your wedding. Here’s some advice from Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette on how to handle some of them.

Divorced parents

Invitations: If your parents are divorced but everyone is helping to pay for the wedding, everyone’s names should be included on the invitation. A sample, from Emily Post:

Mr. and Mrs. Shelby Goldring


Mr. Michael Levy

request the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter


Ceremony seating: Plan in advance how you’d like your parents to sit, and tell the ushers so there is no confusion. Unless the bride and her mother are estranged, it is typical to put the bride’s mother and family in the front pew. Grandparents, aunts and uncles would sit behind her. After he escorts his daughter down the aisle, the bride’s father would sit in the third row. Follow the same seating if the groom’s parents are divorced: mother and family in front row, grandparents and aunts and uncles next, then father and his family.

Reception seating: Whether your parents are friendly or not, it is a good idea to let each be the head of their own table at the reception. Each will have relatives, friends, and perhaps a new spouse that they would like to sit with. If the divorce was not amicable, it is definitely a good idea to let each host their own table.

Large family, small guest list

Sometimes your family is larger than your budget will allow your guest list to be. If you don’t want to cut back on the details of your wedding in order to expand your guest list, it’s time to start cutting. The easiest way to is to put relatives into groups: second cousins or great-aunts and -uncles, for example, and then cut whole groups. This will lessen the chances that people will be offended because all second cousins, for example, aren’t coming. You can also talk to out-of-town relatives — you might be able to eliminate people from your list who aren’t able to make the trip.

Bridal party pressures

Once you’ve decided on the size of your bridal party and selected the people you’d like to stand with you, you might feel pressure from others — parents, relatives, friends — to add someone to the list. Stand your ground and explain why you’ve chosen the people you have. Remember that there are other special roles you can give important people in your life. Ask them to read a passage at your ceremony, hand out programs, serve as guestbook attendant or other important task.

Disapproving parents or children

When others disapprove of your marriage, remain calm when you talk with them. If the concern is over age difference or socioeconomic differences, it is helpful to discuss the issue alone with your own parents to help ease their minds. If they’re unable to resolve the differences and decide to continue with wedding plans, some couples will merely let their parents know the time and place of the wedding, placing the responsibility for continuing the relationship back on the parents. Most will attend the wedding rather than risk losing their child.

Prenuptial agreements

If socioeconomic differences are making one set of parents uncomfortable, it can be helpful to have a prenuptial agreement between the bride and groom. Discuss this early on with sensitivity — the other person might not take kindly to the idea. Most prenups define what happens to property and assets in the event of divorce or death. It usually addresses the rights to property and assets that each brings to the marriage, not assets acquired during the marriage. Couples marrying for the second or third (or more) time often choose a prenup to make sure children from prior marriages are taken care of.

Broken engagements

A broken engagement is tragic, and once the dust has settled, there are things that need to be done. In most cases, the bride should return the ring, unless it is an heirloom in her family. Any gifts of value the couple has given to each other during their time together should also be returned. If guests have already given shower and wedding gifts, those presents should be returned either in person or with a note explaining that the engagement is broken.