01/24/2013 11:52 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

How to Deal with Divorced Parents at the Wedding

A few years ago I had a bride whose parents absolutely hated each other. They had an extremely nasty divorce and used their daughter as a pawn for years. Her father insisted on being there when she and her mom went dress shopping. When she walked out, he mother said, "You're such a beautiful bride!" Her dad stood up and said, "You're the MOST beautiful bride!" They were pros at the one-up game. Her father hadn't been in her life for a number of years but when it was time for the wedding, he assumed that he'd be the one to walk her down the aisle. This decision weighed heavily on her. Normally, I have the luxury of being an observer but every once in a while, my clients' situations hit a little close to home.

My parents got divorced when I was 5 years old. I don't remember much about that time in my life other than that my parents had a major fight in the middle of a snow storm and then one day my dad no longer lived in our house. He's a musician so I would sit in his studio and bang on things like I was playing the drums. He was my buddy. I mean, I was only 5 so I'm sure it didn't take much to entertain me. Once they divorced, my dad disappeared for what seemed like 10 years but was only about 5 years. That was half of my life, though.

I don't know much about their divorce other than that my dad didn't do much to persuade my mom not to get one which, in his mind, meant that he didn't want the divorce. Which translates into them having a "nasty" divorce, as he tells it. My mom remarried when I was 10 years old and our stepdad was the father we never had and the husband my mother deserved. When my sister got married, she and her husband walked down the aisle together. We've never really been into traditions in my family. I'm sure the distance that existed between her and my dad made the decision that much easier to make. He played the piano during the ceremony and knowing my mother, I knew her feelings were a little hurt. She had been there all of our lives and now my dad was getting the "spotlight" during the wedding since he participated in the ceremony.

My bride called me three weeks before her wedding in a complete panic. Her father threatened not to attend the wedding if he couldn't bring his much younger girlfriend, who wasn't invited in the first place. She knew that he wanted his girlfriend to come just to upset her mother. This was the final straw. I sat down with her later than night and this was what I suggested she do:

First, sit your parents down...separately. Unfortunately, you'll have to explain how important your wedding day is to you. Let them know that the day is not about them, but about you and your new husband. This seems obvious, but if your parents are acting the way my client's parents were, you'll need to have this talk. They'll probably nod their heads and tell you that they are going to behave. Give them examples of how they haven't up to this point just to solidify your point.

Next, I would decide how each parent is going to be a part of your ceremony. In my sister's case, she chose not to have our dad walk her down the aisle but she did have him in the ceremony. Since my mom was there our whole lives, she felt that she should have been in the ceremony. That's her issue not yours BUT it wouldn't hurt to have your mom read a poem or a prayer.

Most girls dream of their fathers walking them down the aisle. It is a "handing" off but if your dad wasn't around or you aren't close to him, there is no need to have him walk you down the aisle. If you have a stepdad, I understand not wanting to hurt your dad's feelings. In this case, either have both of them walk you down the aisle or have your mother do it. I'm sure she would appreciate the honor and probably deserves it.

Now, after you've come up with a few ways to handle your divorced parents at your wedding, let it all go. You've done everything that you can do by being considerate of their feelings. This is your day and if your parents don't get it after all of the talks and tears, they never will. Oh, and make sure to seat them at separate tables.