How Should Divorced Parents Navigate Paying for Their Child’s Wedding?

Don't let this tricky situation ruin the big day

Updated 07/06/17

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Having divorced parents can be challenging, and getting engaged (and planning a wedding!) can bring up all sorts of complications you may not yet have faced. It’s an emotional time for everyone involved, and wedding planning also includes a lot of conversations about a topic that can make many people feel uncomfortable: money. If you know your parents are planning to pay for your wedding, but they’re not sure how to address splitting the bill now that they’re no longer married to one another, you’re in luck. We turned to an expert for a little advice that will help you navigate this sticky situation.

How should the bride-to-be begin the conversation with her divorced parents?

“Begin the conversation by being as open and honest as possible,” says Kimberly Foss, Certified Financial Planner and president of Empyrion Wealth Management. “Clear communication with both parents is of the utmost importance.” Before the conversation even starts, ask both of your parents to keep a key detail in mind: “Your parents need to remember that this wedding is about their child, not their own feelings about the divorce," she says. "Just as responsible parents should try to help children understand that the divorce was not the children’s fault, they should do all they possibly can to put aside any hurts, grievances, and resentment toward their ex-spouse and focus on making their child’s day the best it can be.”

Once you’ve set the tone, have a candid conversation with each parent individually about your hopes and plans for the wedding. Advises Foss: “Use what you know of your parents’ current relationship—whether amicable, distantly polite, acrimonious, or what-have-you—to prepare yourself; then explain to each parent what you will need from them. Before you even discuss money, emphasize that you hope and expect that they will do whatever possible to make the wedding—and your marriage—a success. Then, if you do need help paying for the wedding, put that information on the table and ask your parents to help you determine what sort of budget you will have to work with, what they each would like to pay for, and any tasks (from dress shopping to choosing a band) you’d like them to help you with.” Foss stresses that the more specific you can be about what you need and expect from each parent, the less room there will be for unfounded assumptions, turf battles, and hurt feelings.

What are some tips for deciding who pays for what?

Again, it’s all about open communication. “Ideally, the parents are able to communicate on wedding finance between themselves and work out a mutually acceptable arrangement,” says Foss. “But if that isn’t possible, then you should speak with the parents in question to find out what they can or are willing to contribute toward the cost of the wedding. From there, adjust and allocate your budget according to your parents’ wishes.”

Should the parents split costs 50/50, or contribute based on their own income or savings? How should they decide what this will look like?

“The amount each parent contributes will vary based on the situation and the capabilities of those involved,” Foss explains. “If your parents are unable to communicate amicably, you should go to them separately to find out what each believes he or she can contribute to the event costs. In the event that one parent has greater resources than the other, there may be an expectation that that parent will bear a larger share of the expenses, but don’t make any assumptions! Instead, the actual division of contributions should be based on what each parent is willing to contribute, no matter what their resources may be.”

Should the parent who contributes more have more say or get more guests?

No matter how much each of your divorced parents is contributing to your wedding budget, the dollar amount does not give them any more say as you are planning your wedding (operative word being your). “To return to the theme mentioned above, this wedding is about you, your partner, and your wishes, and is not a competition between your divorced parents," says Foss. "The goal of the parents should be that their child’s wedding occurs in a fashion as close as possible to how it would have if the divorce had not occurred. This means that the division of guests should be based on what is fair and equitable with respect to the child and his or her relationships with extended family members, not in order to maintain some sort of ‘quota’ for the parents.” The same goes for influence on any other details of the wedding day: Your parents should be involved as much as you would like them to be, but should not expect to have more influence because they provided more funds.

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