Divorce & Separation: Language Really Does Matter!
This week saw Siobhan Baillie MP lead a debate in Westminster Hall (16th November) on the terminology used in family law.
The impact of the use of language for separating families can be profound and the statistics speak for themselves:
- Every year in Britain around 280,000 children experience parental separation.
- Frequent, intense and poorly resolved parental conflict is harmful to children with potential life-long consequences.
- The primary reason for children being referred to counselling is the effect of family separation.
The language used in the family law world has a key role to play in shaping these statistics.
We have all watched TV programmes focusing on acrimonious divorces (Kramer v Kramer; The Split) and we can see the details of the latest high profile and hotly contested divorce case splashed across the news. What does this say about the world of family law – the place where couples come to sort out their differences?
The language of family lawyers has been driven by our adversarial court system. It’s not uncommon to hear lawyers talk about divorce battles; warring parents; 50:50. The words we use shape our mindsets which in turn affect how we think and behave. It’s little wonder that this combative language entrenches conflict leading to difficulties in separated families for years to come.
It is time for change! At FLiP we are proud that two of our lawyers – Consultant Gillian Bishop and Senior Associate Nicole Phillips – have worked with Helen Adam at the Family Solutions Group and others to produce a report “Language Matters – A review of language for separating families” on the importance of the careful use of language for separating families. They have consulted widely across a range of interested parties. The report makes 5 key recommendations about the use of language for separating families.
The language used should be:
- Plain English – avoiding legal jargon
- Personal – avoiding legal labels
- Proportionate – to properly reflect the family issues being considered
- Problem solving – avoiding combative, battle language
- Positive futures – focusing on building positive futures.
You can read the full report here.
Over the next few months you will begin to see more about this important initiative Language Matters which can really contribute to positive futures for so many separating families.