Etiquette for an Obituary Listing and a Former Marriage

To include or not to include? Many families struggle with whether or not to mention a former spouse in an obituary.
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It's no secret that today's family is a far different dynamic than in generations past. In this age of divorce, remarriage, blended families and such, writing an obituary can be a challenging task. Possibly the most difficult aspect of writing an obituary today is how to address the issue of a former spouse.

1 The Deceased is Remarried

If the deceased has remarried since the dissolution of a former marriage, it goes without saying that the current spouse is named first in the listing of survivors, followed by the children and parents of the deceased. If the family opts to include the former spouse among the survivors, it should be after the immediate relatives. This is a case where the wishes of the current spouse should be given considerable weight in the family decision process to avoid further anguish at such a difficult time.

2 When Children are Involved

If the deceased and former spouse share children, many believe that this cements the place of the ex in the obituary. The idea behind this is that the relationship, although ended, was significant enough that it should be acknowledged. An appropriate way to incorporate this in the obituary would be "survived by the mother of his children, Ann Jones". If the children of the former couple are grown, their input should be taken into consideration when the obituary is written.

3 Amicable Divorce

The main purpose of an obituary is to notify members of the community that someone has passed so they may offer their condolences to loved ones. In many instances, the loved ones include the former spouse. If a couple shared friends and acquaintances, listing the ex among the survivors is a way to help people recognize the name of the deceased and respond appropriately. If the couple remained friendly after their divorce, it may be appropriate to list the survivor's name as "former spouse."

4 Family Decisions

Today's etiquette dictates pretty firmly that it is the decision of the surviving family members whether or not to include the former spouse of the deceased in the obituary. Short of any obvious dissention among the family, many families choose to err on the side of caution and include the ex as a survivor. In many cases, the former spouse still has ties to the deceased, his family, and friends. Acknowledge this past relationship in the obituary if the deceased still remembered their bond fondly.

A.J. Ryan is an elementary school teacher and graduate-level college instructor. She holds a professional teaching certification in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, as well as a Master of Education and a Bachelor of Science in business administration.