The ‘Parent Trap’, Dealing with Divorce at your Wedding


Back in July I decided I was going to make my own wedding dress for our wedding next September. Consequently, this weekend I took the same trip that my mum and my granny had previously taken together to a fabric boutique called Borovicks Fabrics in Soho to pick my dress fabric. Whilst trawling through the many different types of lace with the assistant, we talked about how it’s become something of a tradition making the wedding dress in our family. The assistant then turns to mum and says, “So mum, how long have you been married?”. Cue a slightly awkward pause and a jolt back to reality.

Perhaps it might be helpful for me to interject some history to help you understand exactly why. By the time our wedding comes around my parents will have been divorced for 11 years. Sometimes those years have been tough but I moved past the ‘Parent Trap’ phase quite a while ago and feel that both of my parents are now much happier. Though with that said, if there’s one occasion to really bring out difficult family dynamics it’s a wedding! I don’t want to dwell on the past in this post too much but think touching on it may help explain my choices and I hope through writing this is that it will help other brides-to-be who may be in similar situations.

From The Heart: The 'Parent Trap': dealing with divorce at your wedding

I want to start off by saying that my mum is amazing. She has spent the last 10 years making sure that my siblings and I continued to have a good relationship with Dad regardless of how painful that has been for her. That my dad was leaving came completely out of the blue and was such a big adjustment to make. Just one Sunday over lunch he said he was leaving next Friday, and it seemed as simple as that.

After that we saw him several times a week after he finished work, and on Saturdays at our home as my mum had felt that she didn’t want us to miss out on after school events such as parties, because of going to Dad’s every other weekend. I can’t imagine how hard that initial period was for her, especially as they had never argued in front of us and the reason for the separation wasn’t clear until a month later. I found out this reason when my brother and sister had gone to stay with Dad for the weekend to watch the six nations, I had point blank refused to go and stayed with my mum. When they returned home Sunday evening after a good weekend and talked about dad’s friend Natalie, I looked over and saw my mum in tears.

My dad had been having an affair, and had left my mum for Natalie. The emotions that I felt at that time were pure hatred towards both Natalie and my dad. The emotions were so strong that when I look back now I feel ashamed when I think of some of things that I either privately thought, or said aloud to them. As time moved on, things slowly began to improve and I now get on well with Natalie. She has never tried to be a step mum and I valued that, but I still occasionally became upset again with little things like witnessing my mum finding post from hotels that Dad took Natalie to when he was ‘away working’. Things continued to improve more when my mum met Jeremy, it sounds horrible, but it helped my relationship with Natalie as I no longer felt that I had to protect my mum and could see that she was much happier.

Over the last few years we have occasionally had everyone together for big birthdays and whilst at first it was painful it has become easier, and now with the wedding approaching I’m pleased that we did this, however a wedding including all of my mum’s family and a still furious granny is a different tale.

From the outset my mum explained that she knew it would be difficult but she didn’t want it to impact on our day, in fact she even hosted a parents and partners’ dinner to celebrate our engagement. We had a lovely heart to heart whilst walking the dogs, where mum said the one thing she couldn’t bear would be Dad doing a speech because she didn’t want any illusions made about him always having been there for us when he wasn’t. My main worry is that this will be the first time that my mum’s family will meet Natalie and I’m concerned about their reactions.

My granny is still very angry with dad as she felt like she had to be angry for mum too. She said to me early on that Natalie shouldn’t be at the wedding, though I’m sure if she had her way dad wouldn’t be there either! This was such a hard conversation as we are very close but I had to explain that regardless of the past, Natalie has been a part of my life for the past 10 years and therefore I can’t just pretend she doesn’t exist, and that despite everything I feel that she should be there.

Weddings are so difficult when you’ve got divorced parents as although divorce isn’t uncommon, there are so many things that your parents are expected to do on your wedding day from the wording on the invitations, to the seating on the table plan. I’ve by no means solved all of these but I thought I would share my decisions so far.

  1. Invitation wording – I think now we have started to move away from the traditional ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ invite, however seeing as they are both? largely contributing I feel that I have to include them. Therefore, at the moment I’m thinking of wording it as: ‘together with their families’. This seemed to fit for us as although the in-laws aren’t contributing financially, they are making the chutney favours!
  2. Walking down the aisle and giving away – initially I quite liked the idea of mum doing this or even perhaps both my parents, however I think sometimes we have to compromise. Mum was keen that Dad have his special moment too (did I mention she’s amazing!) so Dad is walking me down the aisle. Dad was really touched by this and I think it has definitely made us closer.
  3. Photos – every wedding I look at has the parents’ photo with the bride sandwiched in the middle and with great big smiles plastered over all their faces. Whilst I’m sure we probably will have a photo of the three of us, I’m also really keen to have photos with them and their partners too. They’re not together so I don’t want to have lots of photos pretending that they are. My photographer has been amazing about this and I completely trust her to get the feel of the day without anyone feeling left out.
  4. Speeches – I’m not sure I’ll get through this without there being tears, but I am so happy that mum is doing the speech… just so long as she doesn’t blow up that horrid Christmas photo of me and project it behind her as a backdrop!
  5. Table plan – so this is still not quite resolved! If Dad has his way everyone would be on the top table but it practically wouldn’t fit in the village hall! I don’t want Natalie to feel abandoned or stranded with the few of Dad’s relatives we’ve invited, but I also don’t want it to be a focus point on the top table. So potential solutions at the moment include having a bridal party table or even just the two of us on a sweetheart table. I’m really keen to hear what other people have done in this situation?

I’d like to finish off with some advice for anyone else who may be in this same predicament. This is not how I pictured my wedding, worrying about where people will sit and what relatives will say, but my parents both seem much happier. It was an awful time but there are some positives to have emerged from it like the relationship I have with my mum. It’s traditional for Dad to walk me down the aisle and to do the speech but I am so much closer to my mum and it wouldn’t feel right not to acknowledge that.

Your wedding day is about you and your other half, regardless of any family tensions. It is your day and so ultimately I feel that regardless of who is financially contributing to your day, it remains your decision regarding which roles your family and those close to you hold on the day, and ultimately who is invited. Be open and honest with your family about the situation and your expectations – this way there will be no surprises, and hopefully with a bit of luck everyone will get along well for your special day.

I’d love to hear from anyone in similar situations. I can certainly relate that it can feel really overwhelming, and in truth, the table plan is already giving me nightmares but I know it will turn out perfect in the end!


The author of this feature would prefer to remain anonymous but is one of our lovely blog readers who has asked to contribute to ‘From The Heart’  – a series where we hand the blog back over to our readers on a Sunday to write about all matters of love and life. If you would like to contribute a From The Heart piece of your own, we would dearly love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter what it’s about and it doesn’t have to be related to weddings at all – we’re looking for honest, authentic, personal, sad, happy, family, relationship, marriage, health, light-hearted, serious, baby, trying for baby, children, career, simple, complicated – real life issues.  We just need you to write from your heart. Keep it upbeat and witty, or share your thoughts anonymously on a more challenging or emotional subject. Please drop me a line at [email protected]. I look forward to hear

21 thoughts on “The ‘Parent Trap’, Dealing with Divorce at your Wedding

  1. I completely empathise! My parents got divorced when I was 4, as my dad also left my mum for someone else (who he’s been happily married to for 20 years and is mother to my little half brother). Over the years the tension and upset has abated, though my mum was very frosty towards my stepmum at my older brother’s wedding two years ago, which was the first time they met. My brother had a top table with all the traditional people on it. Still, I wasn’t keen on the top table idea for my own wedding this summer – it didn’t feel like a suitable representation of our family, as my stepmum is really important to me and should be by my dad’s side but I knew my mum would hate her being on the top table. So we had a round table like everyone else, and had both sets of parents on as well as best man, my older brother and his wife. I then put my stepmum on the table with her family and dad’s family immediately next to where dad was sitting, so he could easily check in with them – same for my mum and her family on the other side. we deliberately had only a main course, speeches then a cake buffet (which people mostly ate outside in the sun) to make the amount of time sat at the table as short as possible, so people could choose to mix with who they wanted after. Your mum sounds awesome, and hopefully, if she’s being so positive about the wedding, your granny will have to come round and accept the situation too. Best of luck! Xxx

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment! I hadn’t thought of round tables that might be a perfect solution! I definitely think as time goes on things get much easier but it’s hard when meetings only happen at special occasions, as you don’t want your day to be remembered for that! Sounds like you’ve got it all covered and I hope you have an amazing day!

  2. I am very touched by your honesty and truthfulness about the subject.
    My Parents separated years ago and are no longer in contact with each other.
    I would like my Mum to attend more than my Dad due to the nature of their breakup but not inviting him is going to lead to a ripple effect of my brothers and sisters getting upset because of taking that stand against him.
    I am looking forward to marrying my Fiancé but I do have to say that I feel really stressed each day about how little of my Family will be there when I tell them Dad won’t be invited.
    My Fiancé is of a different culture and religious faith and I know that has caused further tensions in my family- I just want to get married and have no dramas of a family nature on the day.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, I think it also really helps knowing that we’re not the only ones with tricky parent situations! I think you just have to stand strong, it’s so hard when it comes to siblings( mine have a much better relationship with Natalie than I do) but it’s your day not theirs and they can do whatever they want on their day!
      At the end of the day it’s you and your fiancé who matter! I hope that your family understand but please be reassured that you’re not alone! If you’re not a member already join the love my dress Facebook group as everyone is so lovely and always so helpful when you need to vent!!

  3. Dear blogger. I’m in a similar situation but my Mum and dad do not speak at all and have always avoided any family gatherings. I’ve dealt with them being divorced for 20+ years and they both have respective partners. My issues are that my father wishes to have his wife’s daughter there. 5 years ago he and his 2nd wife separated, divorced and then this summer got remarried. Unfortunately my step sister and I did end up falling out and we have not had a relationship for the past 5 years. My father wishes to control the situation and for me to invite her but I have put my foot down. He has called me selfish and disrespectful to the family. This has just caused more heartache than was already present in the fact my family is so split. I’m planning on either having a sweetheart table or just having the best man and my sister on the main table. Saves a lot of arguing. I just hope on the day they all behave and keep their opinions to themselves. We are also entirely footing the bill for the wedding so it’s our way all the way. Good luck. I know you’ll need it as much as I do. Kerry xxxx

    1. Hi Kerry

      I’m so sorry to hear that your dad is being so difficult, I honestly think that you have made the right decision re your step sister. I think your dad is being unfair just expecting you to carry on as before, my advice is just be completely honest with him. Hope you have a lovely day as at the end of the day it’s the two of you who matter!!

  4. I had this situation at my wedding recently. My dad is a nice man, but not really been there for me – so my step dad gave me away as this seemed right. He grinned like a loon all day! We decided against a ‘top table’ and sat with our siblings/bridesmaids etc. Each of our 3 sets of parents hosted a table each with people that they knew and people we thought they would get along with. This seemed to work really well, and didn’t exclude anybody. It’s a tricky one overall – but hopefully parents can be mature and it’s OK in the end!

    1. Hi Kerri,

      It sounds like we have similar situations! How did your real dad react when you told him he wouldn’t be walking you down the aisle? It’s beginning to cause me sleepless nights!

  5. Hi,

    This piece really struck a chord with me. We had a similar situation at our wedding in May – both of our parents are divorced! It was tricky in the planning stages and I really empathise with your dilemmas. There were some difficult conversations in the run up but on the day everyone was great and totally behind us.

    My dad walked me down the aisle but didn’t do a speech – my sister did this.

    We opted for a sweetheart top table for just the two of us and were really happy with how well this worked. Everyone got to sit with who they got on with and we actually got some time just the two of us to revel in the ‘just married’ awesome-ness of the day. We’d very much recommend this.

    And as Kerri says above it will be ok on the day!


    1. Hi Jo

      So pleased it all worked out in the end for you! I think the sweetheart table is definitely becoming more common and nice to have some couple time!x

  6. From the moment I read the title of this I was in tears, and it was comforting to see that there are other people in the same situation.

    My parents divorced when my sister and I were really young, and even with their best efforts it was messy. It took 20 years for them to be able to be in the same room, even though both had remarried. My step-dad took on the role of ‘dad’ and although my actual dad and I get along really well,I just don’t see that much of him.

    Both will be doing a father of the bride speech, that’s easy. The biggest stress is who will walk me down the aisle? I don’t like the idea of half and half, or both of them. If I only choose one they’ll be upset, if I choose neither they’ll be upset! Can I really walk down the aisle on my own?

    The sweetheart table is an excellent idea rather than a traditional top table, so thank you for that inspiration!

    1. Hi I think it’s so important to realise you’re not alone! I love the idea of both doing a speech as it sounds like your relationship with both of them is unique. I absolutely think you can walk down the aisle on your own if you want to! It’s your day and you can do whatever you like, could even walk down the aisle with your OH! I’m sure you will come to the right decision! As I said in a previous reply, join the group as it’s perfect for these worries!! Xx

  7. We also had the same issue at our wedding. We didn’t have a top table, we all had a round one and we sat with our bridal party (ushers, bridesmaids plus their other halves). Mum and dad sat with their side of the family with their other halves too which worked out well and we had no complaints. People complimented us on not having a top table too x

  8. I completely understand where you are coming from! I am in the same situation as both my fiance and I are from divorced families. We are having all round tables with just bridal party (bridesmaids and groomsmen) on the table with us. Then to one side our dads and related family and partners. Then to the other our mums and related family and partners. We are having Middle earth place names so have chosen 3 elvish places for the 3 tables to tie them together without sitting everyone together! We have also given out ceremony roles (apart from dad walking me down the aisle) to friends and family friends so we aren’t giving one lot of parents more to do than the other. Wishing you all the best and if you have any other questions about what to do, join the FB group if you haven’t already and ask – they are all wonderful and super caring!

    1. Hi Hannah,

      Think tying the tables in together is a lovely idea! 100% agree with you re Facebook group, don’t know what I would have done without it! Hope you have a lovely day! X

  9. Trying to keep everyone happy can be really hard when it comes to weddings. I have never felt so confused and torn with many of the decisions I faced leading up to our wedding.
    My parents have been separated for 16 years and although they are by no means best buddies, they are amaciable. On the other hand, my in-laws only recently divorced in the year leading up to our big day. I tried to come up with many different solutions but it was very difficult when it came to the seating plan.
    It didn’t help that at some points leading up to the wedding, my mother-in-law decided she didn’t want to come to the wedding if her ex-husband was coming. So the predicament of the guest list, let alone the seating plan was a real issue.
    In the end both ended up coming to our wedding in August this year and we had our best men and my parents on the top table with us in between. My mother-in-law with her family (sister, daughters,neice) and my father-in-law with his family and our close friends (nephews, husband’s friends). My dads partner sat on a table with my family, as they all know her well and has been with my dad for 10 years.
    The only knock on effect seating my husbands parents on the front two tables had, was that my family and friends were on tables further back and it wasn’t evenly spilt, as I originally inteneded. However, my parents were on the top table, so we had to compromise somewhere.
    As for photos, I had one with my mum and dad and then one with my dad and his partner. My husbands parents didn’t want to be near each other, so we had separate ones with each of them.
    I hope this helps in some way.
    Just to let you know, we also considered a table with just the two of us and to be honest, I think sometimes this can work really well and looking back, doing that wouldn’t have been a problem and maybe would have made things a lot easier.

  10. Wow, this post is amazing! My husband and I got married back in September and had the exact same situation. My Dad had an affair and left my Mum when I was 4 and my sister 10 months. He’s since remarried the woman he had an affair with and had 2 kids. My Grandma too, has been very angry in the past and neither her or my Mum have properly met his new wife which made lots of wedding logistics hard and stressful!

    My Mum was desperate to sit on the top table whereas my Dad was very relaxed and just wanted to sit with his side of the family, so it kind of made the decision easier. I had my Mum and her fiancée, my sister and her boyfriend, my husbands Mum, Dad, brother and Fiancé on the top table with us. My Dad walked me down the isle (same situation as you, definitely brought us closer!) and both my Mum and Dad made a speech.

    I totally understand how stressful this situation can be, but I promise on the day, you will not care one bit, you’ll be too happy! Thank you for the brilliant blog post 🙂

  11. This has relieved some tension in my own planning process that I was refusing to believe was there!

    My parents divorced 4 years ago (only finalising the divorce 18 months ago) and do not speak. After 25 years of marriage my dad had an affair with a family friend for 3 years leaving my mum with 4 children, on Christmas Day. The whole thing was dealt with very very badly and no body speaks to my dad. I have opened that line of communication with his recently because I would like to invite him to my wedding as I think that I’m 20-30 years I may regret him not being there.

    My problem is, he will not be playing a role in the day at all! My current plan is for my brother to give me away and my mum to do the speech. My sisters will be bridesmaids so they’re okay. But my dad will just be a guest. I don’t know how well that is going to go down with my dad… who also got engaged on the same day as me and completely stole my thunder (not that I’m bitter about it haha).

    I’m also struggling with the fact that he would have to be there on his own. I will not invite his partner, nor will I be inviting his side of the family, so I know he’s going to feel isolated anyway.

    It’s a very emotional time and subject and I just feel like no matter what I do I’m going to upset people, and I’m far closer to my mum than I am to my dad.

    1. Hi Jess,

      I’m so happy this feature has offered some comfort and so sorry to hear what you and your family have been through.

      None of this has to be your problem, and you would be well within your right if you would prefer to ask your dad not to attend, given the circumstances. What I want to say is, try not to extend that invitation based on any guilt you might feel in years to come. If it would feel easier for you to celebrate without him there on the day but then maybe spend some intimate time with him celebrating privately afterward (or even before) – over a quiet meal or something, that might be another option? Please try not to carry guilt over this.

      Sending love xXx

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