This blog post is from Linda Solomon, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Dallas-Ft Worth area. She is actively involved in the collaborative approach to divorce, working as a neutral team member focusing on the family. She has served as a Board member of The Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.
When I began working with families in the divorce process, I noticed all the words that were used to describe spending time with the children post-divorce. Words such as “possession”, “custody,” and “visitation” were, and are, quite common. My initial reaction was immediate discomfort with those words. That continues to be true for me today.
In the family law world, as in any profession, it is necessary to have terms that describe any actions that will occur. The words noted above are necessary for that purpose, most notably the divorce decree. I encourage parents to consider using other words from the beginning of their divorce process – words like two homes, shared parenting, Mom’s parenting time, and Dad’s parenting time.
My suggestion is based on two thoughts:
1. The plan you create in your collaborative divorce process will focus on shared parenting time and how to actively parent your children from two different homes. It is not about one parent visiting his/her own children.
2. Words have so much power. Think about what it might feel like for a child to hear parents use the following words, “Well, you don’t have custody this weekend.” “This is my possession time, not yours.” “Your visitation doesn’t begin until 5 p.m.” Now imagine the difference if a child hears, “Let’s talk about changing our parenting time a bit this weekend.”
One huge benefit of the collaborative approach to divorce is that parents are given the opportunity to work with a mental health professional on all aspects of a parenting plan regarding their children. Awareness of the power of words is just one of the many co-parenting suggestions that can and is typically discussed during the meetings. In addition, it is typical that all of the items needed for the decree (regarding the children) are also discussed. The lawyers, of course, will then review those decisions and offer suggestions and guidance. Paying attention to words is a great step, which can be immediately taken, in beginning the process of becoming better parents in divorce.