How to List Ex-Spouse(s) in an Obituary + Examples

Updated

An obituary is a way to honor someone’s life and legacy. While this is typically a straightforward highlight reel of someone’s accomplishments, it’s not always cut-and-dry. Things can get tricky when you need to know how to list ex-spouses in an obituary. While most people don’t have to learn how to write an obituary, this is an important skill to keep in mind. 

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Today’s families come in all shapes and sizes. It’s normal for families to change over time, even if that means divorce or separation. Blended families are the new normal, but this means obituaries become more complicated. While there are a number of obituary templates to draw from, how do you list ex-partners?

Luckily, you’re not alone. In this guide, we uncover the reality of obituary etiquette to share how to list ex-spouse(s) in an obituary. In addition, we’ll share clear examples so you can determine how to write your own obituary for someone in your life. 

Do You Have to List Ex-Spouses in an Obituary?

First, do you have to list an ex-spouse in an obituary? Ex-partners can be a complicated matter, and you might not be sure if they belong in an obituary at all. In today’s world, you have a lot of flexibility. There are no rules that are set in stone. This means you can always use your own judgment whether or not you include ex-spouses in an obituary. 

According to traditional obituary etiquette, it’s common to include any predeceased or surviving relatives in an obituary. This is usually limited to close family members, like current partners, parents, children, and siblings. However, in some cases, it might make sense to list ex-spouses in an obituary alongside other relatives. 

Because the main purpose of an obituary is to notify friends, family, and community members of a loss, it’s perfectly acceptable to include these relevant names. In addition, if there are any shared children, it’s common to include the ex-partner in the obituary. Ultimately, consider the wishes of any surviving current partners and children when writing the obituary. Their opinion is the most important. 

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Do People Typically List an Ex-Spouse’s Family Members in an Obituary?

With that in mind, do people usually list an ex-spouse’s family members within an obituary? Again, this is a case-by-case situation. It’s common to list any ex-spouse's family members when this includes shared children, stepchildren, or other close family. If the divorce was amicable, it’s also possible that the partners remained close with their ex’s families. 

In general, it’s normal to include only the closest living and deceased relatives of the deceased. This doesn’t usually include ex-spouse’s family members unless they’re exceptionally close or related in another way. It’s common to include all of the following in an obituary:

  • New/current spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents

If anyone else is listed (ex-partners, extended family, friends, etc.), these are usually included after immediate family members. The closest family members and partners are listed first. This is a difficult time after a loss, so it’s important to be considerate to those grieving. The rule of thumb is to start with close relatives to non-related people. Because some obituaries have character restrictions based on cost (i.e., publishing in a newspaper), you might only have space to include the most essential relationships. 

Examples of How to List an Ex or Deceased Spouse in an Obituary

With that in mind, use these obituary examples as a guide. Reading through examples of how to list an ex or deceased spouse or an obituary makes all the difference. This doesn’t need to be a complicated process. Simply trust your own judgment and do your best. 

Example for a loved one with one ex-spouse

Jane Doe, age 60, of Polk County, passed away this weekend surrounded by her friends and family. Jane was an active member of her local Catholic Church, and she was an inspiration to all who met her. She worked for over 35 years as a primary school teacher, educating young children with each passing generation. Jane is survived by her former husband, John Doe, and their children, Edith and Gloria Doe. She will be missed every day. 

Example for a loved one with multiple ex-spouses

John Smith, age 85, died on Monday, August 5, 2016, after a battle with cancer. John was a retired Air Force pilot, and he served his country for 50 years. He is predeceased by his former wife Jane Smith, and he is survived by his former wife, Angie Smith, and their children, Archie and Mary Smith. His family is holding a service in his honor this weekend at the family’s home. 

Example for a loved one with a deceased spouse but who has remarried

Barbara Nelson, age 70, of Orlando, Florida, passed away this past Monday surrounded by her family at home. Barbara was an active member of the Orlando community, where she was born in 1950. As a nurse, she used her passion for science and patients to make the world a safer place. Barbara is survived by her spouse Mathew Nelson, as well as her former husband Jeremy and their son, Billy. Her family is requesting donations in lieu of flowers to the Orlando Children’s Hospital in her honor.  

Example for a loved one with a deceased spouse, but not remarried

Julie Pickles, age 45, passed away last weekend after a battle with cancer. Born in Newark, New Jersey, to Anthony and Mildred Pickles, Julie was a happy, outgoing woman who loved meeting new people. She spent her early years studying and devoting herself to her favorite sport, softball. After playing at the college level, she went on to coach her youth softball league in Newark. She will be missed by all of her current and past students. Julie is survived by her parents, her sister, Stephanie, and her former spouse, Matt Peters. Her family will hold a small, private service for close family in her honor. 

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Common Places to Post an Obituary

Lastly, where should you post an obituary? In this day and age, you have more options than ever before. There is no one-size-fits-all place to post, so consider what matters most to you. Each of the options below has its own benefits as well as restrictions. 

Newspaper

To begin, the most common place to post an obituary is in the newspaper. Traditionally, newspapers were the only way people announced deaths to the greater community. Today, this has fallen out of practice as more people shift online for their notifications. That being said, submitting an obituary to a local newspaper or community newsletter is still very common. 

To submit an obituary to a newspaper, start by exploring the editorial guidelines. You’re limited with the number of characters you can use, and you may or may not be able to add a photo. Because this is printed, it’s also the most expensive option. 

Online memorial website

On the other hand, it’s also becoming more common to use online memorial sites. These online memorial sites are platforms specifically for sharing the news of a loss. They’re inexpensive (or free) and collaborative, making them a leading option for those grieving today. 

Unlike a newspaper, you’re not limited to a specific character limit. Many online memorial sites also make it possible to create a guestbook, accept donations, or share photos/videos digitally. Better yet, they live online forever. 

Social media

Finally, many people choose to honor their loved ones by posting their obituaries on social media. While not required, this is a free option that shares the news of a passing with one’s direct network. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram even have memorial tools and remembrance features to make this possible. 

If you plan to post an obituary on social media, make sure you’re mindful of personal details. Unfortunately, online crime and fraud are always risks, especially when announcing a death online. Ultimately, you want to share the news while keeping everyone safe. 

Write an Obituary with Confidence

No matter your relationship with the deceased, obituary writing can get complicated. With today’s changing family dynamics, it often feels important to share the full story. This might include someone’s past relationships, marriages, and so on. This is especially true if these were long-lasting, amicable relationships that resulted in children. That being said, there is never any requirement to share personal details in an obituary. 

At the end of the day, an obituary is how someone is remembered. It doesn’t have to include complex descriptions of someone’s relationships or personal details. Instead, it should focus on their biggest accomplishments and milestones. More importantly, ask yourself how they would like to be remembered. 

When you honor their wishes, you’re performing an act of remembrance. This is a form of compassion that you can feel proud of. When in doubt, consult with the surviving family to determine how they’d like to be represented in the obituary, if at all. Privacy is important to the grieving family. 

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