Custody, versus, battle, opponent, rights, parties and dispute are a few of the words that family lawyers believe to be most harmful to family relationships according to the Family Solutions Group, which is calling for an end to such ‘combative’ language .

Other words identified as potentially harmful include entitlement, 50:50, judgment, primary carer, fight, access, my client and applicant.

From their series of workshops, the Family Solutions Group, found that it was more constructive to use phrases such as collaboration, problem-solving, together, our children and co-parenting.

In a separate survey, 86% of 228 respondents strongly agreed that plain language instead of legal jargon would be more beneficial and 76% thought that referring to parents by their first names was more helpful than terms such as ‘applicant’ or “respondent”.

At least seven in 10 professionals thought formal guidance from the judiciary might be needed for language to change.

Helen Adam, chair of the Family Solutions Group, said: ‘It’s shocking that harmful terms like “custody” are still commonplace in our society and the media, despite every effort to remove them. The “fighting talk” so often used in the context of family separation sets parents against each other, escalating family problems and putting children at risk. A “custody battle” suggests a tug of war between parents for the control of their child, with parents pulling against each other. Not only is this 30 years out of date, but it’s harmful to children, unhelpful for parents and ultimately damaging to society.

‘In these days of increasing awareness of the impact of language upon minority groups, it is extraordinary that there is such a blind spot over the impact of language on families who separate. The simple truth is that fuelling aggression and battles between parents increases the risk of harm to their children. Our language should reflect a problem-solving approach rather than stoke the fire of a battle.’

“Unfortunately, inappropriate language, such as the words highlighted above, remains prevalent in family law.  Parents and their lawyers should have uppermost in their minds that where children are involved they too will be directly affected by the separation, and so should always be child focused and think twice about using such partisan/emotive language. Hopefully this survey is a first step towards all of us using more considered and sensitive wording which can help in deescalating tension upon the breakdown of a relationship.”

For further advice on all family law matters, please contact B P Collins’ family team on 01753 279046 or email

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