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Navigating Step Family Wedding Etiquette

Wedding guest lists are hard enough when you're only considering the needs of the bride, groom and each of your families. Add divorced and remarried parents into the mix, and it might seem like a puzzle that just can't be solved especially with twice as many family members to consider.

Blended families are the new norm. Many engaged couples are facing the same difficult question of how are they supposed to make sure that everyone feels included while ensuring that no one gets their feelings hurt. While this can often be a difficult question to answer, because every family is different, there are some guidelines you can follow step family wedding etiquette.

Of course, you need to take into consideration how long your parents have been remarried and how close you are with your stepfamilies. A good place to begin is always with your biological relatives; your mom and dad's families, and anyone you are close with from before your parents got divorced. Of course, you may have fallen out of touch with some relatives, depending on how the divorce went, so be sure to consider carefully where the cut-off line will be. Will you invite only grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins or will second cousins and great-aunts or great-uncles make the list as well?

When it comes to step-parents and step-siblings, try to be inclusive. Your step-parents should always be invited, with their names on the invitations alongside your parents', and you should include your step-siblings in your wedding either in the bridal party or be given an important role, such as giving a reading. Even if you are having an adults-only wedding and your step-siblings are under 18, treat them as you would your biological siblings, which means they should be on the guest list, but don't get a plus-one.

1. No matter how close you are with your step-parents, etiquette dictates that you recognize them.

How close you are with your step-parents will, of course, determine how much you wish to involve them. Whatever you do, don't leave them out completely. Your step-parent is very important to your mother or father and it would be rude not to include them in an appropriate way. Does this mean you have to let your stepfather walk you down the aisle? No, of course not. However, your stepfather should definitely be seated next to your mother during the ceremony, and should be announced along with your mother when they enter the reception.

2. Who should walk me down the aisle?

This is one of the most common questions we get from brides who's parents have remarried. The answer really boils down to one question – who are you closest with? If you grew up with your step-father and you have a close bond, he should be the one to walk you down the aisle. If you, grew up with your father and are much closer to him then it’s a no brainer, walk with your dad.

However, if you're especially blessed to be equally close with both of them and you want to honor each of them you have a few options.

1. Half & Half – One walks you halfway down the aisle, and then passes you off to the other, who walks you down the remainder of the aisle and hands you off to your groom.

2. Together – Each father takes an arm and completes the entire walk down the aisle with you.

3. Neither – While this is a new trend, it’s definitely an option, especially for brides who are not particularly close with either father. These brides can choose to have another male relative they are close with walk them down the aisle instead, such as an uncle or brother, walk with their mother down the aisle or opt to walk down the aisle with their groom. This last option is very modern, but is slowly growing in popularity.

3. How should we address the invitations?

Invitations are becoming exceptionally complicated to address. In the past, it was traditional for the bride’s father to pay for the wedding. This is why he bride’s father and mother are listed on the invitation together. "Mr. & Mrs. Jones."

However, if the bride’s parents are divorced, often both parental couples will help pay for the wedding. In these cases both couples need to be recognized on the invite, including the stepparents. "Mr. & Mrs. Jones and Mr. & Mrs. Smith"

Now of course, things can get complicated if the bride’s parents didn't change their last name when they remarried. In these cases it is best to simply put “Together with their families,” a strategy many couples are now choosing.

4. What about the dances?

If you are close with both your step-father and father it is best to give them both this honor. If you are not particularly close with your step-father, it is perfectly okay to only do a first dance with your Dad.

Another option many brides are now considering is to dance to a combined song where you begin the dance with one father, and then about two minutes in, switch off to your other father. In some cases, keeping the same song, and in others switching the song based on your personal preference.

5. How and where do I seat people?

We always recommend giving each new “social unit” their own family table! The bride and groom can either sit with the wedding party or at a sweetheart table just for them. Each new family then has their own table nearby. Place one to the left and one to the right for example. This way everyone will feel equally included, but you avoid awkwardness by not forcing the ex-wife to sit by the new wife.

Beyond that, it's up to your discretion, your venue, and your budget. If you're having a small wedding and don't have room to invite your stepmom's parents and sister (step-aunt) and her sister's family, you're not obligated to cut your best friends off the list in order to squeeze them in. However, if your parents have been remarried for decades and you've gotten close with your stepdad's family, you'll definitely want to add them to the list. Apply the same guidelines you used when determining which relatives to invite: If your grandparents, aunts, and uncles are on the guest list, your step-grandparents and your stepdad's siblings should be as well.

An finally, always remember to thank your stepparents as well in any toasts you give. Always remember to give the 411 to the photographer and your wedding planner before the wedding day of to avoid any awkward situations. And always include your step-siblings as much as possible to avoid them from feeling left out.

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