Wedding Etiquette for Step-Parents

Written by kate hillsing
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Wedding Etiquette for Step-Parents
Traditions can be altered to accomodate step-parents while giving the couple the wedding they want. (wedding image by Mat Hayward from

Step-parents can complicate wedding plans, especially when the bride and groom are dealing with divorced parents who can’t get along. Some etiquette guidelines will help you walk this potential mine field unscathed and allow you to have the wedding you want.

Invitation Wording

Wedding invitations are traditionally worded to show who is hosting the wedding. For example, "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith request the honour of your presence of his daughter..." When both the mother and father plus their respective spouses host the wedding, then all four of them should be included, with each couple on a separate line. If this appears too convoluted, it’s acceptable to word the invitation so it appears the couple is hosting the wedding: "Mary Smith and Bill Doe request the honour of your presence..."

Who to Include

Divorced parents should be able to put their differences aside to celebrate their child’s wedding day so that both parents and their spouses can attend. However, if a new spouse will cause problems, you don’t need to invite them, especially if this person was instrumental in the divorce.

Step-parents should generally be included in the wedding in some way—even in a small way such as giving them corsages or boutonnières to wear. You can also invite a stepfather you have a close relationship with to make a toast at the reception, or have a stepmother do one of the readings during the ceremony.

Walking Down the Aisle

Who should walk the bride down the aisle is up to the bride. If you consider your stepfather your “real” father, there is no reason you can’t ask him to do the honour, rather than your biological father—as long as you sit down with both of them and explain your feelings. You can offer your biological father another important role in your wedding instead. You can also have both your father and stepfather walk you down the aisle, or you can have one walk you halfway, and the other the rest of the way. Other options are to walk alone, or have your mother walk with you instead.

Receiving Line

The receiving line can be handled in a variety of ways. When the divorced parents and their spouses get along, you can ask all of them to be part of your receiving line—just don’t have exes standing next to each other, because guests might think they are still married. If including everyone will cause friction, you can include only the mothers of the bride and groom and have the fathers and respective spouses circulating among the guests.

Seating Arrangements

When the divorced parents are friendly, they can all sit together on the front pew, or in the front row of seats, at the ceremony. If there are still ill feelings, it’s probably better to separate them. The parent who raised the bride or groom should sit in the front row, along with the spouse, while the other parent can sit in the third row. At the reception, seat the parents at separate tables along with their spouses and friends.


Much as you may want to, you can’t take pictures with your divorced parents together. You’ll have to take one with your father, and a separate one with your mother. You can show support for your parents’ remarriages by including their spouses in the photographs.

Reception Traditions

The easiest way to avoid hurt feelings or confusion is to avoid announcing the parents at the reception. Announce the new bride and groom as a married couple, but introduce the wedding party and parents during the toasts and speeches instead. You can also skip announcing an official father-daughter dance, and have an informal special dance with both your father and stepfather later in the reception instead. Another option is to split the father-daughter dance with both men—dance the first half with your father and the second with your stepfather, or vice versa.

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