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MODERN ETIQUETTE: Wedding dilemmas in the 21st century

LONDON — Spring is here, which means that the wedding planning season is well underway. For those getting married this summer, the next few months will be very memorable but tense.

With large budgets at stake, tricky family scenarios to manage and the pressure to host the 'perfect day', it is easy for brides and grooms to feel stressed. Here is a quick guide to some of the most common wedding etiquette dilemmas:

The over-enthusiastic mother/mother-in-law-to-be.

Difficult family situations and interfering mothers can add pressure to an already tricky process, and the run up to your dream day is often extremely stressful.

Allocate both the mothers a special job - this may be allowing them to help with the flowers, or research wedding car options. Let them feel involved and part of the process, and you should be able to restrain the meddling!

The question of 'plus ones'.

Just like the wedding budget, there is never enough space on the guest list to invite everyone. It is natural that on such a special occasion you want include all your friends and family, so make sure you prioritise your guest list to include those who really matter.

There will be plenty of people on the list who have other halves, many of which you may not know very well. Don't feel obliged to include a 'plus one' for everyone - do you want to look back at your photos and see people you don't recognise? Remember that every person you invite uses up a ceremony seat and some of the budget and, therefore, limits who else you can invite.

However, there are exceptions. You should invite both halves of couples who are engaged and those who won't know anyone else at the wedding. Take the time to find out their names so you avoid writing 'and guest' on the invitation. One way of compromising is to invite them to come along for the evening, after the meal and speeches.

Don't forget, too, that it is considered the height of rudeness for a guest to ask for a 'plus one' or to assume that a partner is invited.

No-children allowed.

Many couples decide not to include kids on their big day, but it must be handled carefully. It's likely that the majority of your guests will respect your decision and make suitable arrangements, but it's also likely that there will be a few guests who make you feel uncomfortable about your decision.

Remember, it's your day, but if you adopt a no-kids policy, stick to your decision. Make no exceptions, even for your best friend or closest family member, as it's unfair on other guests who have organised childcare. It often helps to give a reason and make a specific age cut-off point - for example, 'unfortunately due to the limited size of the Luxury Hotel, we have decided not to invite children under the age of eight'.

Who pays for the bridesmaids dresses?

Being asked to be a bridesmaid is a great honour, but it can also turn into an expensive nightmare. Inevitably there will be some evenings out spent planning the day, as well as the cost of the hen party. There is the expense of travel to the wedding, accommodation for the wedding night (and sometimes the night before too), not to mention the wedding present.

Brides, should, therefore, try to help out by paying for the bridesmaids' dresses. It is important to include the costs in the initial budget, and to also tell your bridesmaids when you ask them.

If budget is very tight, you could ask them to pay for their shoes and any accessories (cover-ups, wraps, jackets etc). Just make sure you tell them in advance.

Allow plenty of time to choose the right dresses. Listen to their opinions too - just because you're paying doesn't mean that you can totally overrule their wishes.

Complex families and the top table.

The seating plan often turns into one of the biggest logistical nightmares of the wedding. For the traditional wedding where the parents of the bride are married and are the hosts, and groom's parents are together, then the top table doesn't generally pose a problem. If parents are divorced and remarried, it can seem impossible to keep everyone happy.

Tricky family politics can often cause unease and create a difficult atmosphere.

One simple solution is to go for a non-traditional seating plan and ignore the whole idea of a 'top' table. Each of the parents/side of the family can be allocated their own table with their closest friends or relatives, leaving the bride and groom to sit with their wedding party and friends.

Many couples regret trying to force a traditional seating plan onto complex family situations. It's much better to be able to sit comfortably at the reception and see relaxed family and friends having fun.

How should we ask for money on our gift list?

Times have changed and many couples have already set up home before they get married, so the idea of asking for china and linen seems pointless. Asking for money as your gift list is now quite commonplace, but it must be handled carefully.

Guests must feel like they are giving money to something worthwhile, so one of the most popular financial gift lists is for honeymoon contributions.

Many travel agents host the facility for guests to securely transfer money towards your holiday of a lifetime. Some companies even offer specific elements of the holiday as a gift. For example, a night's hotel accommodation, car hire, transfers, a meal in a specific restaurant, diving expenses, ski passes etc.

Alternatively, you can explain that you are saving up for something specific, for example a new kitchen, house extension etc. Just make sure you give a reassurance that the money will be spent wisely.