Planning a wedding with divorced parents is tough, and it can be even more so if one (or both) of your parents has started to see someone new—especially when it comes to your limited supply of plus-ones. If one of your parents has a new significant other (and there’s no engagement ring in sight), do you have to invite him or her to your wedding?
"Wedding planning is nothing if not an exercise in boundary-setting. This is one of those moments," says wedding planning expert Elisabeth Kramer. "What is your personal boundary around this question? Once you've figured out what that boundary is, have you communicated that boundary to the person in question? That last part is crucial, particularly with a parent who may assume certain things because of their role as a parent. We're fighting against what everyone has seen, read, and consumed about weddings, so if your expectation differs from that expectation, you will be best served if you share that clearly and with kindness."
Meet the Expert
- Elisabeth Kramer is a day-of wedding coordinator and author of Modern Etiquette Wedding Planner.
Of course, that doesn’t make the situation any easier. Navigating plus-one allocations to your parents' significant others is tricky, so we grilled Kramer a bit more on the topic.
When to Give a Plus-One (And When Not To)
While the “no ring, no bring” rule is pretty straightforward, it’s becoming less and less common as couples date for longer periods of time, live together before getting married, and sometimes skip traditional marriage altogether—meaning long-time partners are getting invited along with their dates. New boyfriends or girlfriends, however, really depend on the situation. If you have space to invite everyone with a guest, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been dating, but if you’re tight on seats at the table, a new flame may not make the cut.
So does that apply to your parents, too? Probably not. Especially if your parents are paying for some or all of your celebration, they should be allowed to bring a guest—even if it’s your mom’s brand-new boyfriend or girlfriend. "Consider if the parent is paying for any portion of the wedding, I call these folks 'The Board' because they're investing in your wedding and as such, they have power," says Kramer. "This doesn't mean you have to invite someone just because someone on The Board wants them there, but that we do need to consider that context." And, of course, if they’re in an established relationship, engaged or not, your parents should be at the top of the “and guest” list. (Note: If your parent is single or hasn’t yet “defined the relationship,” there’s no need to give them a plus-one; your wedding isn’t the appropriate place for a first or second date.)
If you haven’t met the new partner yet, make a point to do so before the wedding so you don’t have to awkwardly introduce yourself in your wedding gown.
Talk to Both Parents Ahead of Time
If you’re unsure how one of your parents will react if the other parent brings a new S.O. to your wedding, have a conversation about it. Ask your mom how she feels about having her boyfriend or girlfriend attend. Does she see it going somewhere serious (so much so that she’ll be happy to see that person in your wedding photos in the future), or is it more casual? And don’t forget to discuss your dad’s feelings. It’s important for them both to be comfortable with the arrangement, and if you’re concerned that Dad will have a hard time seeing Mom with someone else, say so. "Address this situation with empathy," adds Kramer. "That can be very challenging, particularly if money is involved, but it does work."
Should They Be in the Processional?
It’s also important to think about how your parent’s new S.O. will participate in the wedding. You do not have to include this person in the processional as new partners should not participate unless they are engaged to your parent. Instead, reserve a seat next to where your parent will be sitting for their plus-one to be seated before the processional begins. "At weddings I work, I do this by putting down a 'reserved' sign with the person's name on it," explains Kramer. "I communicate this to the person so they know to look for their saved spot." Then, once your parents have processed, they can take their seats—and have their partners waiting for them in the next chair.
Should They Stand in the Receiving Line?
Your parents' plus-ones should also not stand in the receiving line. If the relationship is very new, most of your family members won’t know your mom or dad’s new companion, and your receiving line is not the appropriate place to make those introductions. Instead, he or she should mingle with the rest of the guests, and then your parent can make introductions during cocktail hour. If the relationship is a longstanding one, trust your gut. "You know how this person makes you feel and the role they play (or don't play) in your relationship with your partner," says Kramer. "If those are feelings or a role you and your partner want to recognize, go for it! If you don't, own this and communicate it (ideally, ahead of any rehearsal or the ceremony to avoid undue awkwardness)."
Where They Should Sit
The new S.O. should be given a seat at the same table as the parent they are dating for the reception. Just as with any guest attending with a date, it’s impolite to split them up, and they’ll be much more comfortable sitting with someone they know.