Q. My husband’s ex just passed away. His adult children are planning the memorial service and expect him to attend. Apparently, there is a history of bad relations between my husband and his ex-wife’s family. My husband is reluctant to attend the service for that reason, but I suspect he will probably attend for his kids’ sake. Is it appropriate for me to join my husband at his ex’s memorial service? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. If there were no kids the answer to your question would be simple—although he could go because there’s no formal restriction as to who can attend a memorial service, it’s certainly not expected that he be there, no protocol stating that an ex should attend their former partner’s memorials service.
The rules change somewhat if you shared kids with the deceased. That means, hopefully, over the years you have put aside your differences to set a positive example for your children. Even though you are no longer together, the best role model you can give your children is how you interact with their other parent. Under such conditions, attending an ex’s funeral or memorial service would be completely appropriate, expected, and very good ex-etiquette.
As you said in your question, you expect your husband will attend to support his children–as he should—and his children should give their mother’s extended family a head’s up, saying that they have invited him because he is their father and they want his support at this very difficult time. Whether you should attend with him is dependent on the relationship you have built with his children over the years. If you are on the outside, attending might be just salt in the wound. If you have built a loving rapport, they would probably be insulted if you didn’t attend.
Some might say if you are married, when he goes, you go. I understand that, but I am also of the mind that you do what you must do to bring comfort to those in mourning.
Where someone might sit at such a memorial service is again dependent on their relationship with the deceased and those attending. In other words, if dad was on the outs, he might attend to support his children, but stay toward the back and not bring attention to his being there. If dad openly respected the deceased as the mother of his children, co-parented over the years, and comfortably interacted with new partners and former extended family, then he would sit with his children at the funeral and memorial service and openly offer his condolences to the deceased family and friends.
In my case there would be no question that I would attend my ex’s memorial service—and I actually did. Plus, my husband attended as well. This was based on years of co-parenting, some not so good, but definitely better as time went on, and developing a mutual respect as our daughter’s parents. I also had built a rapport with his wife of 25 years, but more importantly, my daughter was very close to her. Truth be told, we all were there—ex-husbands, ex-wives, bonus siblings, half-siblings. His passing was all our loss and we came under the same roof to honor someone we missed. What you called our relationship to him didn’t matter. The love and respect did.That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.