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The Power of Language: Why “Parenting Plans” Are Better Than “Custody Battles”

By July 26, 2012July 21st, 2023Alan Freed Featured, Child Custody

By Alan Freed

For most married people, not to mention their children, divorce is an ugly word, filled with negative connotations, many of which have to do with unpleasant conflict, emotional struggle, and financial hardship.  The troubled husbands and wives who come to my office to consider divorce rarely face me with enthusiastic smiles.  They are sometimes sad, often angry, but almost always frightened, in part because of the power of that single word:  divorce.

If you are going through a divorce, what can you do to make your life more bearable during this difficult process?  Here’s one tool you can use from the very start:  think about your word choices and make your language work for you.

Rethinking the language of divorce begins in the lawyer’s office.  For years, attorneys and their clients have discussed “custody battles.”  The use of those terms conjures up armed camps fiercely facing each other, each ready to hurl grenades at the enemy.  Even the word “custody” itself is troublesome.  Custody is a word denoting ownership and control and is a term often associated with prisoners.

Most parents love their children.  Why would they want to “own and control” them?  For that matter, why would they want to demonize the other parent, one they will need to work with for many years to come?

Instead of “battling” over “custody,” consider negotiating a “parenting plan,” one that is focused on your children’s needs and your desire to provide them with the best possible opportunities for health and growth.  Your children deserve two competent parents.  It’s hard to give them that while you wage war.

When you communicate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, consider the words that you choose.  When your children’s father is consistently late in picking up the children and you let him know by beginning your text message or e-mail with a snarky comment, you are undoubtedly assuring that he will stop paying attention to your words and start thinking about an even nastier response.

Instead, before you hit “send,” ask yourself this question:  does each word in my message help me to get what I want?  If the answer is no, then start changing your words.  Calling your ex-spouse a son-of-a-@#$*% may make you feel better for a moment, but it won’t make him show up on time.

When you use unkind words to describe your spouse, you are doing nothing to the intended target.  Instead, you are perpetuating the bad feelings that you carry with you.  Even worse, your children will feel the weight of those negative words.  Don’t forget that the children will be spending time with that other parent.  It’s in your children’s best interest, which then becomes your best interest, for you to treat the other parent with respect.  Who knows, maybe the favor will be returned.

Words have power.  You have the power to select the language you use.  Not only will your word choice have an effect on those you communicate with, your decision to get rid of the negative language may have a positive effect on you.


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