I think it depends on the wedding, the guest list, and various people’s expectations. To ascribe to any particular “custom” may cause problems. I also don’t think that the standard refrain of “If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to pay for it,” is the cut-and-dried answer. You can certainly tell your kids that, but then you have NO right to complain when all they can afford is a ceremony in the park and dinner for 20 and mid-range restaurant, and your golf buddy or Great Aunt Edna aren’t on the list.
For example, I’m getting married next year. My parent are paying for 3/4 of the cost, and we are paying 1/4. I told my parents we could pay for it ourselves, but it would be a modest affair for 45 people. My Dad wants a big shindig where all the extended family and friends are invited, with lots of food and free flowing liquor. Feeding 200+ people would be extremely financially painful (if not impossible) for my fiance and I. So I told my dad (nicely) that he could live with the small guest list or he could fund the rest. My parents have done extremely well for themselves, so if they want to spend disposable income on a big party-- it’s not like it’s coming out of their retirement fund or something.
Not long after, he got to reading bridal magazines, and yacking with friends, or something, and found out that nowadays, it’s “custom” for the groom’s family to contribute half. So he calls me and insists the groom’s family needs to pay for 1/2 the bill.
My fiancé’s family is poor. It’s one of those sad stories-- serious illness+job loss back before COBRA that became foreclosure, bankruptcy, and feeding everyone canned beans when my fiance was a kid. They’re also from central Texas, where incomes are nothing like ours in SF or my parents in NY. I don’t doubt that if we went to Texas they’d help us throw smashing BBQ in their church hall or local park. But to ask them to chip in a significant proportion of soaking my New York relatives in boutique Napa wine that my Dad wants to go on a wine tour to select is nuts.
We went around a couple of time, him insisting it’s now custom and me pointing out that they’d experience grave financial strain at an amount of money less than he regularly blows at the tables in Atlantic City. Finally I said: Modest Affair. 45 people. I’ll send you an invite.
He changed his mind, because he and my mother really want the party. I wonder if I’ll regret giving in, but I think now we’re reached an equilibrium.
I’d feel the same if I were a guy. I would not want my struggling future in-laws to have to foot a painful bill my family could afford easily, despite what “custom” said.
(My future in laws are holding the rehearsal dinner BBQ in our backyard. When they arrive from Texas with the brisket from the giant smoker his grandfather built, I’ve been told to point them to the kitchen and get out of the way.)