Second marriages: your questions answered

Written by    Last updated: June 6, 2006

Sorting out the issues that come up second time around

Lots of couples give matrimony a second chance ‐‐ in fact, second marriages account for four out of every ten weddings in the UK ‐‐ but doing it all over again can be daunting to organise.

As well as all the usual hassles of seating plans and what to wear, there are the often tricky issues of stepchildren and ex‐partners to negotiate. There’s no reason though, why a second wedding can’t be a great success, just so long as you’ve thought through all the issues…

Q: My fiancé and I have both been married and divorced. Is it possible for us to have a religious ceremony this time around?

A: That depends on your religion. If you are Church of England, it’s up to your parish priest to use his discretion. If the answer’s no, then that’s that. Non‐conformist Christian denominations often allow remarriages, but check with the individual celebrant to make sure. Catholics cannot remarry in church unless their previous marriage ended in death or annulment. Remarriage after divorce is permitted under Islam and you can marry for a second time ‐‐ but not a third ‐‐ in a Greek Orthodox Church. It’s possible to have a Jewish wedding after divorce but the Rabbi must be consulted well beforehand in order to resolve any outstanding issues under Jewish law. Whatever your beliefs, if you do hope to have a religious marriage ceremony the second time around, it is absolutely essential to contact the appropriate authorities well in advance of the wedding to make sure it’s possible.

Q: What legal documents do I need to supply before I get married again?

A: That’s simple. You need your decree absolute, or, if you are widowed, the death certificate of your former husband or wife.

Q: I can’t re‐marry in church but I want my wedding to have a spiritual dimension. Is there anything I can do?

A: Why not have a wedding blessing? It’s possible to have a Church of England blessing in a church after a civil ceremony. You can also talk to a recognised official of whatever church or belief you follow about blessing your marriage in any location you fancy.

Q: What on earth should I wear? Surely white’s not right for a second marriage?

A: If you had a white wedding first time around, you may well feel that going for the same thing again isn’t appropriate. On the other hand, if you want to, why not?

Wearing white isn’t a particularly old tradition. Like a lot of things, it started with the Victorians. Before that, brides would simply wear their best dress to get married in.It also depends on the situation. It may be the groom’s second marriage but the bride’s first. In that case, why should she pass up the chance to wear the dress of her dreams?

‘It was a second marriage for my husband Peter, but my dress was a proper wedding dress,’ says Helen, who married in a registry office. ‘It was cream, but that was nothing to do with it being a second marriage, it was just because I don’t like white. Even if I’d got married in a church I still wouldn’t have worn a puffy meringue ‐‐ it’s just not my style.’

The main thing is to wear the dress that’s right for you.’

Q: Who pays for a second marriage?

A: With the best will in the world, you can’t really expect your parents to fork out for marriage number two. If it’s a second marriage for you both, then bride and groom are usually expected to pick up the tab.

Q: Who will give me away?

A: If you remarry after divorce in a Church of England church, the marriage ceremony is the same as if you were doing it for the first time, so your father can give you away ‐‐ again ‐‐ if you want him to. However, he doesn’t have to. It’s quite acceptable to be escorted up the aisle by a close male or female relative or friend.

Q: We’ve both got kids from our previous marriages. Do you think they should get involved in the wedding?

A: What to do about the children is one of the biggest issues facing couples who are remarrying after divorce.

‘I think that children like to be involved and I recommend involving them wherever possible,’ says therapist and step family expert Claire Salisbury, who runs a support group called Changing Times, Changing Families.

‘Leaving them out may give the message that they are not part of this new relationship. The whole process can be very confusing to children and it helps to talk things through as much as possible, keeping an open mind about what their feelings are.’

If the children are older, they may make up their own minds. ‘I didn’t attend the registry office for my dad’s second marriage because it didn’t feel right, but I went to the reception afterwards,’ says Carole. ‘I don’t think they minded ‐‐ they just got on with enjoying themselves.’

Much will probably also depend on relationships with ex‐partners and stepchildren‐to‐be. ‘Both Peter’s kids came to the wedding and I was really happy about that,’ Helen says. ‘I’d got to know them over the few years before we got married and I was so pleased to have them at the ceremony.’

Q: Should I invite my ex to the wedding?

A: Only you will know if it is realistic to do this without risking upsetting someone.

‘Every family is different and some remain very friendly,’ says Claire Salisbury. ‘I think it is unusual for an ex‐partner and their family to be present at a second wedding, but not unheard of.’

However, whether or not you invite your ex, you really should tell him or her you are getting married again, out of common courtesy.

Q: It’s his second marriage, but my first ‐‐ how can I make it special?

A: This kind of situation can be a cause of conflict. ‘If it’s his second and her first marriage, she and her family may want a traditional wedding and he may not, as he’s already had one,’ comments Claire Salisbury. ‘He may want something less formal, her family may be disappointed.’ Keep talking and be ready to compromise. Even if you don’t have a big, white wedding, you can add lots of personal touches to make the day your own.

Q: I’m dreading having my fiancé’s family at the wedding because they’re still extremely loyal to his first wife. What shall I do?

A: Bad feeling like this could ruin your dream day and you may have to rethink your wedding plans. ‘It sounds like a nightmare,’ says Claire Salisbury. ‘My tendency would be to recommend that if they want a happy event, a couple in this situation have their own wedding, only inviting those who support them.’

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