DEAR MISS MANNERS - I have just received the happy news that my eldest daughter is to be married next year. In view of the facts that her mother and I are divorced, that I am remarried and the bride's mother is not, and that her mother and I are both wage earners, I would appreciate your advice on the following.
1. Should the cost of the wedding be shared by both parents? When I first considered this question, my reaction was that this was solely the obligation of the father. However, some similarly situated friends, both male and female, suggested that there should be an equal sharing of costs. Other friends said that, depending on the financial position of the parties, there should be a division of costs with the father paying more than 50 percent, and still others have suggested that if the mother is unwilling to bear any of the cost, her relatives should be excluded from the guest list unless she consents to pay the costs proportionate to their attendance.2. If, in your opinion, the mother should share the expenses of the wedding, what, if any, changes should there be in protocol; and, conversely, if the mother should not share the expenses, what changes in protocol would you suggest?
It goes without saying that the happiness of the bride is paramount, since this is (I hope) a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But many of my friends have indicated that the expense-sharing concept is realistic and fair, since although the father is the titular payer when the parents are still married, the mother actually shares, since the money is derived from joint marital funds. This logic, to me, seems compelling.
GENTLE READER - Which would you prefer on this occasion, compelling logic or happiness-of-the-bride?
Assuming that you would choose the latter, Miss Manners will try to give you as much as possible of the former. Just don't push her too far. Etiquette says nothing about the vulgar idea of having the financial backing of the wedding reflected in what you call the protocol; it merely throws up its hands in horror. The answer to your second question is: Don't even think about it. The lady in question did not buy the position of mother of the bride, and it cannot be withdrawn from her for failure to pay wedding bills. Also, her relatives happen also to be the bride's relatives, every single one of them.
As a matter of fact, etiquette, which messes around less in the family budget than people seem to imagine, never decreed that wedding bills were paid by the father of the bride. Who signed the checks, whether there was a joint account, and who brought what money to the parents' marriage were matters about which etiquette minded its own business. It merely said that the parents usually (but not always) "gave" the wedding.
In the sweet old days that you imagine, the mother of the bride (who may have been an heiress - did you think of that?) did most of the "giving" because she did the planning. The bride, by standing at her side moaning, "Oh, Mother," did her best to influence decisions, but the mother was nominally in charge.
Now the balance of decision-making has been allowed to shift to the bridal couple, even under the best of circumstances. When the parents are divorced, they should try as well as they can to make group decisions that will not unduly burden or displease anyone.
A family session in which you all discuss the size and style of the wedding would not be an inappropriate place for you to announce that you would like to help realize the plans and to ask your former wife tactfully what she would like to do.
Should she not be willing to contribute, you cannot threaten to exclude her in any way, but you can - unless you magnanimously want to ignore the difference that her refusal will make to you - enlist her and your daughter's help in figuring out how to scale down the wedding accordingly.