Even in the most amicable uncouplings, things can get complicated when it comes down to the nitty gritty of getting divorced—especially if there are children involved. Chicago-area family law attorney and author of I Just Want This Done: How Smart Successful People Get Divorced Without Losing Their Kids, Money and Minds, Raiford Dalton Palmer, has seen his fair share of divorce proceedings, and he’s urging parents to rethink how they approach the process. Specifically, here’s the one word you should avoid when going through a divorce (and what to say instead).
The one word couples should avoid when going through a divorce
This word is so synonymous with divorce that it’s hard to imagine going through proceedings without it...but Palmer makes an excellent case for why it should really be avoided. “The word ‘custody’ encourages a battle over children,” explains Palmer. “It implies ownership of children that can be won or lost.”
In other words, the current thinking is that whoever ‘wins’ custody over the children will have control over them and the other parent will not.
The concept that divorce and children is a zero-sum game is highly problematic, explains Palmer. “It’s freighted with pop culture, like Kramer vs. Kramer, for example, and the concept that one parent will end up with the kids, and the other will be shut out.”
And when you put it that way, well, it’s easy to see why the word is so troublesome.
Note: Palmer isn’t thrilled about the word “visitation” either, for the same reasons as above. “Visitation also has a prison-like feel and a denotation that one parent is a ‘real’ parent, and the other is just a ‘visitor.’ That's just not how things work these days, especially with two working parent families, and a strong trend toward equal or near-equal parenting time,” he adds.
Palmer argues that parents who believe they may need to fight over custody of children are often surprised to find that they are in broad agreement on important questions like where the children should live or how medical decisions should be made, but the fear that they could lose control and that the other parent might ‘own’ the children leads them into expensive and emotionally draining legal battles.
So what word should couples and lawyers use instead?
Instead of using the word ‘custody,’ Palmer argues that couples and courts should opt for alternatives like ‘parenting responsibilities’ and ‘allocation of parental responsibilities,’ as well as ‘parenting time’ rather than ‘visitation.’ These terms will help defuse the tension and keep couples focused on the needs of their children (i.e., where it really should be).
“This makes it easier to zero in on the key questions about where kids stay, how important medical or educational decisions are made and how much time each parent spends with them. The focus should be on the best interest of the children.”
Seems like a no-brainer to us.