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Tricky Situations Involving Wedding Guests With a History

19th May 2015 |By | 9 Comments

Find out how to defuse some of the trickiest wedding situations, including seating divorced parents, managing family feuds and the controversial question of whether or not to invite ex partners.

Top Table Seating Solutions

The traditional way to seat everyone on the top table is down one side of a rectangular table, facing the rest of the room.

Traditional top table seating order, from the left: chief bridesmaid, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother, best man. An alternative to this is to swap the fathers so that the bride’s parents sit together and the groom’s parents set together.

The top table is the focus of attention at the reception, so any difficulties are going to be obvious to everyone. However much you would love your mum and dad to sit at the top table, if they don’t want to then you need to find an alternative seating solution.

Here are some other variations:

If the bride’s parents have divorced and remarried

From the left: bride’s stepfather, chief bridesmaid, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother, best man, bride’s stepmother.

If the groom’s parents have divorced and remarried

From the left: best man, groom’s stepmother, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother, groom’s stepfather, chief bridesmaid.

If both sets of parents have divorced and remarried

From the left: groom’s stepmother, bride’s stepfather, chief bridesmaid, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother, best man, bride’s stepmother, groom’s stepfather.

If you want to avoid any awkward hierarchies, particularly if there is any resentment or bitterness lurking between current partners and exes, consider only having round tables rather than one rectangular top table for the bridal party so everyone feels equal.

Round reception table at Claire and Conal's Real Wedding |

Round reception table at Claire and Conal’s Real Wedding

The Sweetheart Top Table

If you’re finding it impossible to organise a harmonious top table, do away with tradition and have a romantic ‘sweetheart top table’ just for two ‐ the bride and groom. That way just the happy couple are the centre of attention and everyone else can sit at separate tables with people they feel comfortable with.

Defusing Family Feuds

Family feuds can be the hardest thing to deal with when organising such an important, large scale event. Some weddings bring feuding families together while sometimes sadly the wedding is the catalyst.

If you are finding it difficult dealing with family members who cannot see eye-to-eye and it is disrupting your wedding planning or causing you additional stress, then it can help to address the situation one way or another.

If it is important to you that both your parents are there when you marry, but since their divorce they refuse to be in the same room as each other, you do need to find a way that everyone will feel comfortable with. Sometimes simply keeping divorced parents and their new partners as far away from each other as possible on the wedding day is the only way.

Every family dynamic is different and some family feuds are able to be resolved through communication while others are better handled more sensitively. Try to decide on the best course of action for your family by gently discussing it with a neutral family member before becoming too involved. Your wedding should be about peace and love.

Inviting the Ex

We have all heard stories of couples who invited their ex-wife or ex-husband to their wedding and they all got along famously, but this is rare.

For those who are still able to maintain an ongoing friendship with their ex-partner, and especially if they have children together, it can seem right to invite them to the wedding. You do need to consider how your ex, and particularly your new partner, feel about each other. If there are any misgivings at all it can be better to simply explain that you will be getting married again but that you don’t feel it would be appropriate to have them there on the day. Most people will understand, though some will not, particularly if their children are going to be involved in the wedding. The person you are marrying should have the final say on whether your ex is there or not.

The bottom line is you should not invite former partners unless everyone is comfortable with it. Your parents might still harbour ill feeling towards them so do try to be mindful of everyone’s feelings. It is a sensitive subject that should be discussed long before the wedding day. If everyone is ok with it then invite them and their new partner and just keep it formal.

Written by

Kate Thompson is a widely published wedding expert and lifestyle writer who has made several television and radio appearances discussing wedding trends in the UK.

9 Replies to “Tricky Situations Involving Wedding Guests With a History”

  1. sandra strain

    why should brides mothers new boyfriend be at top table whilst brides fathers partner wasent

    Reply· May 17, 2017 1:58am
    1. Kate Thompson

      I agree with you that in an an ideal world it would be equal and everyone would get on.

      Jan 9, 2018 10:47am
  2. John

    My 10 Year partner has an only daughter
    getting married
    Her husband is deceased
    Where do I sit?
    She has a son who will I presume give her daughter away
    However I feel I should be at the top table
    albeit at a distance from the main participants
    Please advise

    Reply· Dec 31, 2017 12:40am
    1. Kate Thompson

      I think it really does depend on where the bride and groom would like you to sit. I can see that on the face of it, the top table would make sense as the bride’s mother is your partner and the bride’s father is deceased. However the bride may be feeling particularly sad that her father can’t be there, and for that reason may decide to have a smaller top table. I have seen this before and known other partners of the brides mother be asked to sit at another family table close to the top table. My advice is to simply enjoy the wedding wherever you are seated and not take it personally if you are asked to sit away from your partner. It is likely to simply be about the bride’s father not being there which can be very difficult for many brides on such an emotional day. My congratulations to your partner’s daughter, wishing you all a wonderful day of celebration.

      Jan 9, 2018 10:54am
  3. Becky

    My father is remarried my mother is not, his father is deceased, is it ok to have stepmother at top table with his brothers there to even up his mother and mine?

    Reply· Jan 17, 2018 5:58pm
    1. Kate Thompson

      I’d say it’s fine as long as everyone involved is fine with it. If everything is amicable then it should work very well. For further ideas and advice on this please visit:

      Jan 23, 2018 2:29pm
  4. Vanessa Higan

    The brides mother has died quite a while ago, although her nan still brought her up when mother was alive. She is due to marry and wants her nan at top table but grooms family not happy with that, say that if her nan sits at top table then his nan should, her nan is the only mother she’s known, now it seems to be causing problems for the wedding arrangements, is it wrong for her to want her nan in her top table? Her father will be there, it’s her in laws to be that are causing problems

    Reply· Feb 11, 2018 3:12am
    1. Kate Thompson

      It seems that her nan would be seated at the top table in place of her mother so it makes perfect sense to me for that reason. My advice is to suggest the bride asks her groom to explain the importance of having her at the top table as he knows his parents best and should be best able to find a compromise on behalf of his bride that ensures everyone is happy.

      Feb 15, 2018 11:10am
  5. Nicci

    From Nicci ;
    The brides Father sadly passed away around six / seven years ago :
    The Brides mother has met a new man who has been going out with him for four /five years : they are inseparable :
    Where should the Brides mums long term partner sit if there is a top oblong table ?

    Many thanks

    Reply· May 3, 2018 10:18am

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