Wedding Etiquette for Non-Traditional Families

Bride and groom

American family dynamics can be very complicated. More and more families have some other arrangement than the traditional mom, dad, and kids. People get divorces. There are step-parents, step-siblings, and step-children. Since wedding etiquette assumes a traditional family, many people don’t know how to make sure everyone is happy. A non-traditional family can affect everything from wedding invitations to how you plan the reception. Here are some things to remember when planning a wedding with a non-traditional family.


The most important component of wedding etiquette for a non-traditional family is open and clear communication with everyone. As you begin to plan the wedding, have an open conversation with your family about their expectations. Talk about any complicated family situation and ask what issues they think you should keep in mind.

Once you decide about the details of the wedding, be clear and firm about it. If there is anyone who might have a traditional role that didn’t get it, talk to that person one-on-one before you reveal your decision to everyone. The person will appreciate knowing beforehand.

The Wedding Invitations

If your parents are divorced, whose names go on the invitations? Traditionally, the bride’s parents’ names as the hosts for the wedding, but a non-traditional family can make it complicated. No one wants to break wedding invitation etiquette.

Here’s an easy rule: Whoever is paying for the wedding has their name on the invitations. If your divorced mom and dad are splitting the bill, put their names on it. If it’s just one family or person, that name should go there, too. If you want to include more names, it’s possible, but you should ask the hosts first.

The Wedding Party

While it’s often nice to include as many family members as you can in the wedding party, the bride and the groom can choose the people they want to stand on either side. The wedding party can be a great way to try to show unity in the family, but not everyone wants to do that on their wedding day.

One way to make sure everyone is happy is to keep the party small. If you choose only two or three people, there’s less chance that someone will feel left out. The larger your wedding party, the more pressure there will be to include siblings and step-siblings.

Outdoor wedding

The Bridal Procession

The traditional bridal procession ends with the father of the bride walking his daughter down the aisle to give her away to the groom. It can be a lovely, touching moment for father, daughter, and groom, but many brides have step-fathers with whom they are close or other non-traditional family members. How can you honor one without spurning the other?

The procession is one area of wedding planning that has loosened over the years. The old, traditional procession is no longer standardized, and brides can arrange their wedding party nearly any way they want. If you want to honor both a father and a step-father, have them both walk you down the aisle, or have the bride walk in unescorted. Otherwise, the bride can choose anyone she wants to walk her down the aisle.

The Reception Entrance

It’s traditional to announce the family and wedding party as they enter the reception. With a complicated family situation, which people should you include? If there is no conflict between family members, it’s an easy decision: include everyone.

What if a family member is dating someone controversial or otherwise bringing someone who will upset others? Bridesmaids and groomsmen are always announced together, so you don’t need to worry about their dates.

For parents, it can be trickier. A parent’s date isn’t family, but they may expect to be treated as such. If your parents have divorced and remarried, announce the new spouse. If they brought a date, just announce the parent, especially if people have conflicting thoughts on their date.

Indoor reception

Reception Seating

With a complicated family situation, it’s best to avoid having the entire family sitting at the head table. Divorced parents may not enjoy sitting so closely together, and other family members may feel slighted. Stick to just the wedding party or even choose to have small sweetheart table for just the bride and groom.

Having a seating chart can make reception seating much easier. You can plan to have everyone in the family seated close enough to the head table to be honored as family, and you can also avoid having a divorced mom or dad trying to sit at the same table. Even if they get along well, it is usually a good idea to seat them at separate tables.

A non-traditional family makes wedding planning more complicated. With weddings, many people, including parents, have expectations they might not share with you. With clear, open communication and some careful planning, you can make most people happy at your wedding. That way, you can enjoy the big day and celebrate your union!

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