While a receiving line is not necessary, per se, there are some very good reasons to have a receiving line. You get to greet and thank all your guests for attending. Then you can enjoy your reception and not spend the entire time table-hopping, trying to speak to everyone during the reception. A good rule of thumb is, if the wedding is less than 150 to 200 guests, then a receiving line might be a good alternative.
The organization of a traditional receiving line is as follows: Bride’s Mother & Father, Groom’s Mother & Father, Bride & Groom, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen. It is not necessary for the fathers to be in the line, but if one is, the other should follow suit. It is also not necessary that the entire bridal party stand in the line. If an attendant is a sibling of the bride or groom, it is nice to include them, but not necessary. The line can be modified to include as few as only the Bride & Groom or just the Bride & Groom and their parents, to as many as the Bride & Groom, their parents, their grandparents and the entire bridal party.
Handling divorced parents is a relatively new wrinkle to the traditional receiving line and should be handled as diplomatically as possible. If the two can navigate the situation with civility and grace. The only change in proper procedure is in the order of placement. For example, if the Bride’s parents are divorced, do not have them stand next to each other, as it can be confusion and lead people to believe they are (still) a couple. Have the Mother of the Bride be on one side of the newlyweds and the Father of the Bride after the Groom’s parents.
If either divorced parent has remarried, the order changes a little more, depending on who’s hosting the reception. For example, if the Bride’s Father has remarried and is solely hosting the reception, the proper order would be: Bride’s Stepmother, Groom’s Mother, Bride’s Mother, Bride & Groom. If the Bride’s Mother is hosting or hosting in conjunction with the Bride’s Father – Bride’s Mother, Groom’s Mother, Bride’s Stepmother (optional) – is the proper order. Obviously, this can get sticky and feelings can be hurt if things are done the wrong way. In this instance, if the parties involved can not play nice for the day, a receiving line of just the Bride & Groom may be the way to go.
Depending on the complexity of your own receiving line needs, you might decide to just forego one all together. If you do, please be sure to greet each of your guests individually at some point during the day and extend your gratitude to them for being part of your special day.