Formal seating at a wedding ceremony is fairly formulaic, however, with divorced parents and stepfamilies, it can become tricky. It is a good idea to determine when and where everyone will be seated in advance to prevent any last minute confusion.
Except in unusual cases, the bride's mother is always the last person to be seated before the ceremony, and the first to be ushered out. If parents are on good terms, ushered seating may follow the traditional order: groom's grandparents, bride's grandparents, groom's mother and father, bride's mother. The bride's stepfather would accompany the bride's mother unless he will be the one escorting the bride down the aisle. The bride's father can sit in the second or third pew with his spouse or relatives after he escorts the bride down the aisle. If the bride's stepfather will be escorting her, the bride's father and his companion should be escorted to their seats after the grandparents and before the bride's mother.
If the bride is close to her stepmother, her stepmother may be seated just after the bride's grandparents. If a stepparent is controversial, he or she might not be formally ushered in, but be seated early in the pew reserved for his or her spouse. In extreme cases where a parent's companion would cause a great deal of tension, he or she may be seated with the other guests, or graciously decide not to attend the wedding at all.
If the groom's parents are divorced, the above seating order can be followed, except that rather than be ushered in together, the groom's father would follow behind his ex-wife as she is ushered in and out. The groom's mother would sit in the front pew, while his father would sit in the second or third pew. All parties would be accompanied by their dates or spouses unless there is controversy or they are involved in the ceremony.
Giving The Bride Away
Who will walk a bride down the aisle? This is often the greatest dilemma with divorced parents. If you are close to your father, this may not be an issue, but if you are not, there are other alternatives.
If you were raised by your stepfather, it would be perfectly appropriate to bestow this honor on him. On the other hand, if you are close to your mom and dad, you can ask them both to escort you down the aisle. Perhaps both your father and stepfather deserve the honor -- in that case, they can both escort you. You may also have your beloved grandfather or brother do the honors. It's up to you. Whatever you decide, let your father know in advance.
Some brides walk themselves down the aisle, while others are escorted by the groom. Go with your gut on this. Whatever you choose will be right.
Many couples are eliminating the receiving line altogether, but if you plan to have one, the general rule is that whoever is hosting the reception stands in the receiving line. For example, if the bride's mother and stepfather are hosting, they would stand together in line, and the bride's father would be a guest (not in the receiving line). Divorced parents should not stand together in a receiving line.
Both of your parents will want to sit in places of honor at your wedding reception, but neither should sit at the bridal table. Rather, each parent should host his or her own table. Make sure that any divorced parents are not sitting at tables too close to one another. Giving them space will allow them to feel relaxed and enjoy themselves.
To avoid the awkward situation of a DJ or bandleader announcing dances that probably shouldn't occur, decide on the dances beforehand and inform the announcer of the way you'd like to proceed.
If you feel that your stepfather deserves the honor of the father/daughter dance, tell your father ahead of time what you are planning to do. If you like, you can dance with your father first; then mid-song, take your stepfather's arm, thus honoring both men. For the "parent dance," avoid hurting any feelings by having both parents and their spouses (if remarried) take the floor. If you think the entire dance scenario is going to cause grief, do away with it. Simply explain the situation to the bandleader or DJ ahead of time.
Be sensitive where photography is concerned. Talk to your photographer in advance about the situation, and let him/her know which family shots, as well as candid shots, you would like taken. While you may want family photos with both of your parents, former spouses may refuse to be in photographs together. Find out ahead of time what is acceptable for them.
If applicable, it is appropriate to include stepparents in some -- but not all -- wedding pictures. You are not obligated to include a parent's casual girlfriend or boyfriend in any formal pictures.
Toasting may go on during the reception. Avoid any awkwardness by having the best man be the first to toast the bride and groom. Alternately, the first toast would go to the parent hosting the affair. If both parents are hosting, the bride's father is usually the first parent to toast the new couple.
All of this may seem like a lot to consider, but take heart -- you're almost at the finish line. By thinking things through ahead of time, you should be able to avoid sticky situations. If your instincts are still screaming at you to run far away, you can always elope. But then again, you might not wear that incredible gown, eat that gorgeous triple-tiered butter cream wedding cake, or worst of all, share the happiest day of your life with the people who loved you first -- your family.