Handling Family Photographs when Parents are Divorced

Dealing with divorced parents at a wedding can be tricky, especially with it comes to dealing with family portraits.  The key to having a successful, happy and respectful family photo session lies in the communication that must occur before the wedding day!  If there’s one rule to family portraits on a wedding day it’s this: “Keep all those involved well informed of the activities they are to be involved in; open the pathways of communication regarding their roles prior to the wedding day in order to avoid any unpleasant drama on the day-of.”

Let’s explore a little further.

A typical “wedding day family photo list” includes the following poses:

Bride + mom

Bride + dad

Bride + mom + dad

Groom + mom

Groom + dad

Groom + mom + dad

Bride + Groom + Her Parents

Bride + Groom + His Parents

But what happens when one set of parents is divorced?  What if bothsets of parents are divorced?  What if both sets of parents are divorced and remarried?  What if they are remarried yet still have major resentment for each other?  The list of “what if’s” could go on forever.  Forget about all the “what if’s” and remember the first tip:

When it comes to invidual photos (ie: bride + mom, etc), the bride/groom is allowed to take a photo with whoever they want! 

If that means the bride wants her list to include combinations such as:

Bride + Step Mom

Bride + Step Dad

Bride + Biological Mom + Biological Dad

Bride + Biological Mom + Step Dad

Bride + Biological Dad + Step Mom


Then so be it!  If the bride really wants all those combinations of photos, then she is more than entitled to it; after all, it’s her wedding day!  Don’t forget about Tip #2:

If you’re adding in additional combinations of family photos you must allow enough time for these photos to be taken!

Budgeting your time properly is crucial to a successful and stress-free photo session!  Addressing concerns over divorced parents early on in the wedding planning process allows you to create a proper timeline of your day and plan accordingly.  Avoiding discussions regarding family photography in order to avoid “drama” is not wise!  The closer you are to your wedding day, the less likely it is that you can change your schedule to accommodate your additional requests.

Some children of divorced parents remain very close with their biological parents and do not have a special bond with their step parents.  Othertimes, the opposite is true.  Often times families will assume they know which poses the couple will be choosing and then when the wedding day roles around and they aren’t seeing the expected combinations, they will speak up.  Oh dear, that means the possibility of drama and hurt feelings on the wedding day.  This is where proper communication is critical so let’s move on to tip #3:

Be open and honest about the photo combinations you want and discuss this with all involved well before the wedding day.  Even if the discussion causes some “drama”, it’s better to deal with it before the wedding day instead of on the wedding day.

So far so good, right?  But what if things get a little crazy… you know what I’m talking about!  What if your divorced parents refuse to be in the same room together, let alone be in the same photo together?  What if your biological mom refuses to even see your step mom on the wedding day – how do you handle a situation like that?

You would think that your parents and/or step parents could put aside their differences for just a few hours for the sake of one of the most important days of your life, but not everyone is mature enough to do so.  (Remember, just because someone is an adult doesn’t necessarily mean they are mature.)  That brings me to another very important point:

Don’t let yourself lose out on your memories because of someone elses immaturity.  Take the high ground; stand by your requests but respect your limits and be open minded of alternative solutions.

If your biological mom and dad are refusing to be in the same room together, do not simply explode and deny them of any photos simply because they refuse one particular combination.  (Yes, I’ve heard it before!  Some brides try the old “If you don’t pose for this photo then I’m not letting you pose for any photos” line.  A statement like this only adds more fuel to the fire.)  Explain to your parents that you love them both very much and that it would mean so much to you to have one single photo of all of you together on the wedding day.  If they continue to dismiss your requests, start offering some possible solutions to the problem.

Before you can solve a problem, you need to determine specifically what the problem is.  Start by asking some probing questions; find out why your parents are refusing you this pose.  People often get angry because they are making assumptions and jumping to conclusions – make sure that this isn’t the case!  (For example, maybe your mother doesn’t want to be in the same photo as your father because she assumes your step-mom will also be in the photo and her issue is more with your step mom than it is with your dad).

Like I mentioned above, don’t forget to know your limits!  If you can’t seem to make progress with your parents, explain to them that you only want ONE photo with them in it together.  If you stress the fact that you will honestly only request ONE photo with them, they will often change their mind.  Although I’m sure you would love nothing more than to have them handy all day for photos, if you meet them in the middle by asking for simply ONE photo, they will usually comply.

By now you’re probably emotionally drained and your defenses may be down.  It’s possible that someone may try to take advantage of your state of mind and start making “suggestions” to “improve” your list of family photos.

Don’t let your family bargain with you!  You designed your list of must-have family shots and you should be the only one who gets to add/remove from that list! 

Don’t let a parent say to you “Okay, I’ll take that photo with you, but only if you don’t take a photo with so-and-so.” and yes, that happens!  I also have heard about couples who get talked into additional shots because “peoples feelings might get hurt”.  Stand by your choices!  It’s YOUR wedding day, YOU’RE driving this car, YOU make the decisions.

By this point, most families have worked out their quirks for the sake of a special day but every now and then you come across a family who just can’t seem to put their differences aside.  This brings me to my final point:

Be proud of the hard work you did and be proud of the fact that you took the high road.  Recognize when your options have run out and accept that the situations is beyond your control.

There’s no point in arguing for 6-months over ONE photo.  So your mom and dad don’t want to be in the same room… at this point, nothing you can say or do will convince them otherwise.  Take the photo combinations you know you can get that day and nothing more.  Don’t put anyone on the spot on your wedding day by asking “one last time” (hoping that the emotions of the day will change their mind) because it’s not fair to anyone involved.

Most times, parents can put aside their differences and pose for a photo together.

 Ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, divorced parents will put aside their differences for a few hours for the sake of your wedding day.  Acknowledging any and all potential awkward or stressful family-photo issues early in the wedding planning process will give you the best chance to come to a conclusion everyone in happy with.  Proper communication is your best tool to work through any situation, especially ones involving your loved ones!  And hey – if you still can’t get your parents to agree on a photo together after months of discussions, just put your individual photo with them in the same page of your album!  You have total control over that!

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