5 Tips for Avoiding Divorced-Parent Wedding Drama

I'm frequently impressed by the very progressive, co-parenting, divorced parents of my wedding couples, and how well they get along and enjoy the wedding weekend together.
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I'm frequently impressed by the very progressive, co-parenting, divorced parents of my wedding couples, and how well they get along and enjoy the wedding weekend together. Unfortunately, for every happily divorced set of parents of the bride or groom I encounter, there's a set of less amicable parents waiting in the wings to create drama for another unlucky bride and groom.

I can't joke about it because I dealt with it at my own wedding. My parents hadn't been divorced for THAT long when I got engaged, and my mother didn't want my father staying in the hotel where the wedding party was staying (and where she was staying). She also didn't want my grandparents staying in the midst of the chaos, nor did she want them staying at the same hotel as my father. This was a tall order for upscale hotel accommodations on tiny Vieques Island 12 years ago. There are a LOT more options now, but that doesn't make the unfriendly-divorced-parents scenario any less uncomfortable for everybody involved.

The bride and groom know how well their parents get along (or how much they hate each other), and they need to plan to accommodate those relationships as best as possible as their wedding. I've heard more than one bride express the opinion that her not-happily divorced parents should just "suck it up" and behave themselves at her wedding so her pictures look the way she wants them to look, and nobody notices anything's amiss. But the fact of the matter is, your family and friends (most of them, anyway) already know about any drama between your parents. If anything, it would look strange for them to be attending your wedding "together." You have to be sensitive to the fact that while it's true that it's your big day, your parents are emotionally invested in your wedding, too.

How long parents have been divorced can make a huge difference in how they feel about dealing with their ex at your wedding. If it's relatively fresh, it's going to be difficult. Especially if either parent has a new love interest or spouse. For a parent who didn't want to be divorced, experiencing your wedding as a singleton may be incredibly painful.

Planning your wedding (even though they want to be involved) brings back memories of their own wedding. They've likely always imagined they'd spend your wedding night with their spouse (your other proud parent), reveling in their shared parenting success and your happiness. Now that they're divorced, fear of the unknown - God only knows what could happen at the reception, right? - means they might not be as excited about your wedding as they would have been before their own marriage fell apart. Feeling that way is not selfish unless they act out, refusing to attend events where their ex-spouse will be present.

While there's no perfect fix for this sort of situation, there are a number of things you can do to give both parents equal, but separate, attention at your wedding. Try following my five suggestions below to make everybody feel more comfortable:

  1. Don't expect your parents to want to stay nearby each other for an out-of-town wedding. If there's more than one hotel option, make sure they're both in equally comfortable accommodations nearby your wedding venue. Never try to make everybody play "happy family" in one villa for budget reasons. It will be the biggest mistake you make in your wedding planning.

  • If one parent is remarried or bringing a date, encourage the other parent to ask someone to be their escort. It doesn't need to be a romantic interest, a friend is just fine. But it would be nice for both parents to have somebody to dance with, and celebrate with, throughout the evening.
  • Etiquette doesn't call for divorced parents to share the same row at the wedding ceremony, but it's fine if that's what they WANT to do. It should be their preference, not the bride's or groom's. With that said, no matter what, Mom gets the aisle seat in the front row, with her escort in the seat next to her. If she doesn't wish to share the row with her ex-husband (or he doesn't want to sit with her), Dad sits directly behind his ex-wife, with his date beside him. Members of their immediate families should sit in their rows to fill things out a bit and offer support.
  • They won't want to share the toast, so don't even ask. The tradition of the Father of the Bride making the most important toast of the wedding reception is gone with the wind, so to speak. The Mother of the Bride gets equal billing, even if they're still married. They shouldn't have to stand up together to toast at the same time unless they choose to do so. Ask in advance to avoid an awkward and embarrassing situation in front of your guests.
  • A "head table" doesn't need to include your parents. In fact, it's much nicer to have your parents host other tables of friends and immediate family. If your parents are divorced, give them each their own table. The rule of thumb is that you don't seat your parents together at a table if they normally wouldn't share a meal. If they truly can't stand each other, put as much space as possible between their tables. That way, everybody can relax and enjoy the wedding dinner.
  • Many happily-divorced parents still dread the traditions and formality surrounding their VIP status as the parents of the happy couple just as much as those with acrimonious divorces. As I've said before, weddings are emotionally-charged times, and frequently, they're also alcohol-soaked. Who doesn't want to consume a little bit of liquid courage when they're facing eight hours of being in the presence of somebody they were supposed to spend the rest of their lives with, especially if one of them has moved on and found someone else. Parents need to be self-aware if they have a tendency to overindulge in booze under stressful circumstances. And it's also perfectly okay for the bride or groom to have a conversation with them about the potential for this problem ahead of the big day. Sometimes, all it takes is a very special request from their loving child to make a parent on the edge take a firm step back.

    Even if your parents haven't been able to be in the same room together in the past, your wedding day is the exception to all of the rules. Treat your parents with respect, plan how to handle them in advance to avoid awkward standoffs, and all of you can have a good time at your wedding. At the very least, you can avoid that vast majority of unnecessary drama.

    Good luck, and happy wedding planning from Sandy Malone Weddings & Events!