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1997 BRIDAL GUIDE The New Wedding Etiquette

Your family may be dysfunctional, but your wedding doesn’t have to be.

AT A RECENT WEDDING, THE GROOM’S family sat together happily in the first pew of Highland Park United Methodist Church. There they were: the mother of the groom, her present husband and her two ex-husbands-one, the biological father of the groom; the other, the man who raised the groom. Such harmonious relations between current husbands and ex-husbands, new trophy wives and ex-wives are certainly not the norm, but there is a way for reconstituted families to get through a wedding without ruining the day for the couple. We enlisted the experts to offer solutions to the stickiest situations.



And when it comes to reconstituted families and where they sit during the ceremony, exceptions are the rule.

If a couple is getting married in a church, they will likely be working with the church’s wedding hostess who will orchestrate the rehearsal and coordinate the ceremony. Cindy Cummings, the wedding hostess at Highland Park United Methodist for the past 15 years, has coordinated some 2,000 weddings. Along the way, she’s learned a thing or two about working with families of all shapes and sizes and offers sound advice for engaged couples with divorced parents and/or divorced grandparents.

Cummings schedules a meeting with the bride and groom several months before the wedding. She keeps a detailed list of each Family member attending the wedding and asks the couple to characterize the state of “dations with each member. This is the time For the bride and groom to make known :heir wishes about where each family member will be seated and how each will par-:icipate in the ceremony. Once Cummings knows the situation, she can discuss the options and devise a plan.

During the rehearsal, the church host-;ss-not the bride or groom-typically runs the show. People who work for the church seem to garner respect even from the most stubborn people when it comes to seating. Even if their advice is not divinely inspired, few object to his or her seating assignment, especially during the rehearsal in full view of the entire wedding party.

In one recent situation, the father of a bride felt that because he was paying for the wedding, he should sit in the first pew. During a private meeting with the church hostess the bride explained her father’s wishes, but expressed her desire to have her mother in the front pew. During the rehearsal, the church hostess told the father of the bride, “’Sir, you will be seated here,” and pointed to the second pew. He didn’t like it, but parents tend to accept suggestions from the church hostess as a fait accompli.

The church hostess, too, is seen as an objective bystander who doesn’t know the details of the divorce, but does know what she’s doing when it comes to weddings.

Does this put parents and stepparents on the spot? Maybe. But the goal is to get everyone seated-not to open up the seating plan for review before the ceremony.

Cummings makes a point of letting the bride and groom know how things are traditionally done according to rules of etiquette. But she encourages them to do what makes them comfortable, regardless of etiquette. Decisions are made on the basis of how long the parents have been divorced and the current relationship between parent and child and between mother and father. The couple makes the final decision, but Cummings is the one who tells the parents what the couple has decided.


Taking pictures at the church can be stressful because of time constraints and heightened emotions, especially if you’ve got a photographer yelling, “I need Mom, Dad and Grandma at the front of the church!” Often, there are two people who answer those calls. After 22 years of photographing weddings involving all kinds of family situations, Dallas photographer Larry Sengbush offers these tips for making it all run smoothly:

Plan ahead. The day of the wedding is not the time for spontaneity or for Uncle Hank to say. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a picture of the bride, her mother and her stepmother?”

The bride and groom should sit down with the photographer early on and discuss their family situation. (“My parents were divorced last year because of an infidelity, and his secretary, now his wife, will be at the wedding.”) Put it all on the table so the photographer can be sensitive to these situations.

The couple should, with the help of their photographer, make a list of every picture they want taken, using first and last names instead of titles like “mother” and “stepmother.” Having the names on the list of photographs enables the photographer to call everyone by name in a dignified manner. It also speeds the process.

If relationships will allow it, try to pho1997 BRIDAL GUIDE

tograph stepparents in the same situations that biological parents are photographed.

After making a list of desired pictures, the bride and groom should show the list to each person to let them know that these are the pictures they wan

Instruct your photographer against taking suggestions from the peanut gallery as to possible groupings for photos the day of the wedding. The photographer can avoid such situations by saying that, due to time constraints, the only photos he is able to take are the ones on the list.


WHEN IT COMES TO DIVORCED PARENTS AND the wedding of their child, consultant Nina Austin offers this suggestion: Go by the rules of etiquette instead of emotions. If you’re not working with a wedding consultant or church hostess, a good etiquette book-look for a trusted standard that’s been updated in the past five years-is a must. Rules of etiquette are meant to make sticky situations less so. Here are a few:

SEATING: When it comes to weddings, mothers reign. The mother of the bride, unless she abandoned her daughter at a very young age, is the official hostess. If she is divorced and has not remarried, she sits in the first pew alone. If she has remarried, her new husband may join her.

The father, if divorced from the mother of the bride, even if he is paying for the entire wedding, sits in the second row alone or with his new spouse. If agreeable to both, father and mother can sit together with their respective spouses in the front row. The same is true for the groom’s family. Etiquette dictates that stepparents sit with the guests in the congregation, but this is rarely done. Unless there is extreme tension, they usually sit in the second or third pews with their spouse.

PROCESSIONAL: Traditionally, the only people seated from the center aisle are the mother of the bride, the parents of the groom, the grandparents and the wedding party. If a couple wishes to call attention to a stepmother who has been very involved, they can honor her by having her escorted down the center aisle and seated just prior to the mothers. Otherwise, stepparents should be escorted to their seats with the rest of the guests, well ahead of the grandparents and mothers. “

RECEIVING LINE: Traditionally, only the mothers of the bride and groom join the coupIe and the bridesmaids in the receiving line. Obviously, if the father of the bride, as the official host, wants to stand in the receiving line, it is an accepted practice. The only time a stepmother stands in the receiving line is if the reception is being held in her home. In this case, the stepmother is first, followed by the groom’s mother and then the bride’s mother.

INVITATIONS: When it comes to the wording of the invitation, etiquette has an answer for every possible family situation. Betty and Lou Ann Campbell of Campbell’s Stationers have been advising Dallas brides for years. They offer the following guidelines if the parents of the bride are divorced:

If the bride’s parents are divorced but the mother has not remarried, the mother uses her given name, maiden name and married name on the first line. The father’s name goes on the second line. Omission of the word “and” indicates that the parents are divorced.

If both the bride’s parents have remarried, the mother’s new married name is listed first and the father’s name is on the second line.

Only if the bride lived with her father and stepmother for most of her life and was raised by her stepmother would the stepmother’s name be listed with the bride’s father as the issuers of the invitation.


Etiquette experts don’t always agree, especially when it comes to new rules for today’s families. Look for an etiquette book that most naturally reflects what you consider to be good, common sense. Here are some good examples:

Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (Doubleday, $32)

Bride’s All New Book of Etiquette, by the editors of Bride’s Magazine (Perigee, $15.95)

Emily Posts Etiquette (Harper Collins, $30).

Letitia Baldridge’s Complete Guide to the New Manners for the ’90s (Rawson Associates, $25.95)

Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn of the Millennium, by Judith Martin (Simon & Schuster, $15.95)

How to Have the Wedding You Want (Not the One Everybody Else Wants You to Have}, by Danielle Clara (Berkley, $12)

Weddings for Complicated Families, by Marjorie Engel (Mt. Ivy Press, $14.95)