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Wedding Etiquette for Step-Parents

Helpful - and considerate - tips for both the bride and groom and their parents' new spouses

Despite her expertise, many might consider Dr. Jann Blackstone-Ford - a divorce and stepfamily mediator - unusual. Not only did Blackstone-Ford co-write "Ex-Etiquette for Weddings: The Blended Families' Guide to Tying the Knot" (Chicago Review Press, 2007) with her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, the pair also co-founded Bonus Families, a nonprofit resource for people attempting to combine families after a divorce or separation.

Of course, not all combined families get along so well, but even if your parents are barely civil, no one wants fights or hurt feelings on their wedding day. "They key is inclusion and communication," says Anna Post, the author of "Do I Have To Wear White?" (Collins Living, 2009).

Here's the experts' advice for how to incorporate step-parents into your big day without stepping on any toes.

The Step-Parent's Role

"Unless the bride's parent has been out of the picture and the bride was raised predominantly by her bonusparent, the bonusparent does not participate in the wedding decision-making," says Blackstone-Ford.

The stepmother can be of great help, however, by tying up any last-minute details and running errands for the bride, the bride's mother or the attendants if needed, or in the case of last minute jitters, lending a stable shoulder. If you happen to be very close with your stepmother, you might honor her by having her do a reading in the ceremony, contribute to the candle lighting if you have one, participate in the first dances or give a toast during the reception.

The same general advice applies to stepfathers, however, things can get a little trickier when a bride would prefer the arm of her stepfather as she walks down the aisle. "It's absolutely OK to have your stepfather walk you down the aisle," Post determines, "but if the bio-dad is going to be at the wedding, make sure you inform him well ahead of time so that if he is upset, he has time to adjust." Be kind, but don't present it as a question: "Is it OK with you if I do this?" - if it's not one.

How to Word the Invite

If the step-parent is helping to pay and/or host the wedding along with the parent, his or her name should be listed on the invite along with their spouse's name, says Post. Divorced parents' names are not listed on the same line, therefore the invite would read:

Bio-mom and new spouse

And

Bio-dad and new spouse

Request the honor of your presence ...

"Regardless of whether she contributed $10 or $10,000, etiquette says the bio-mom's name should come first," says Post, and the same order applies if the groom's parents are included on the invitation.

Where to Sit

The stepfather sits next to the bride's mother in the first row and normally the stepmother sits next to the bride's father in the second row. If that is just too close for comfort, bio-dad and bonusmom can be "buffered" by seating grandparents in the second row and bio-dad and his wife in the third row, says Blackstone-Ford. But if everyone gets along, it is not uncommon to see both parents and their significant others all in the first row.

At the reception, seat each couple at a different table and allow them to preside over a selection of close family and honored guests, says Post.

How to Handle Pictures

Excluding a parent/child-only photo, the step-parent should be in any pictures that their spouse is in. "They are a packaged deal now," says Post. "You don't have the bride with just her bio-mom and dad as if they were still married. It's disrespectful."