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Mind your language! Why words matter in disputes about children
10 Jul 2019

It was welcome news when Britain’s top family judge called for an education programme for separating parents. But the publicity left a nasty aftertaste with words like ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ custody perpetuating the belief that break ups have to be bitter.

Family solicitor Kate Rowley speaks out about why we need to watch our language when it comes to child custody:  

Education for separated parents is undoubtedly a good thing. But it was so disappointing to see the BBC news story using phrases like 'winning' or 'losing' custody.

Children are not prizes to be won - that is exactly the sort of competitive thinking which, in our experience, stops separated parents from focusing on how arrangements will actually work in their children's best interests.

Unfortunately there is little in the public eye about parents who are no longer together but who constructively co-parent. In TV soap operas for example, if people split up one ‘parent’ often leaves the show entirely. 

And I have had cases where people have taken very unhelpful advice from friends on Facebook and sites like Mumsnet that seem to encourage people to become more entrenched and to take a very black-and-white view of the breakdown of a relationship.

Sir Andrew McFarlane made his call for a "public education programme" on how to be a parent after splitting up because he is experiencing many more parents representing themselves in court on disputes about children due to legal aid cuts.

Whilst people may perceive legal advice to be costly, it can work out cheaper – financially and emotionally - in the long run if it means court hearings can be avoided. 

Early advice from a lawyer could, for example, encourage couples to use alternative forms of resolving matters such as mediation or family therapy remove the adversarial stance away a separation.

These processes can be a lot quicker than going to court and take the ‘heat’ out of the situation that protracted court proceedings can cause.

Meet Kate Rowley