• February 23, 2024
 Call to end the combative language of family separation – report

Call to end the combative language of family separation – report

The Family Solutions Group, backed by Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, is calling for a radical change in outdated and combative language used by lawyers, courts, media and wider public in cases of family separation.

The call comes on the anniversary of the No Fault Divorce, (Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020), the “biggest shake up” in divorce law for more than half a century, which came into force on 6th April 2022.

The Family Solutions Group, set up by Sir Stephen Cobb in 2020, say that “battle-stoked language and words like ‘custody’, ‘dispute’ and ‘versus’ can heighten conflict between parents, and can have a long-term negative impact on children caught in the middle”.

They argue that a change in the language of family separation away from adversity and battles, towards safety, wellbeing, and child welfare could improve outcomes for parents and their children.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, addressing a Family Solutions Group event said:

“It’s blindingly obvious that the language we have been using is not appropriate and only goes to stoke the minds of those in a combative mindset, rather than direct them in a different way.”

…this is not a custody fight, it’s a coming together of parents to work together to reduce the impact on their children and help them resolve their issues about the arrangements for their children, in as low a temperature as possible.

And bit by bit the penny is dropping. The language is important. I want to do all I can to bring about a change in the way we use language in the court.”

The Family Solutions Group’s call for change is informed by recent polls of over 400 professionals to find out which words are most harmful and helpful, plus a survey completed by 228 professionals.

The Family Solutions Group survey found that a majority (99%) of professionals said that the language legal professionals use affects separating clients’ mindsets and their behaviour, and that small changes in language could affect a child’s experience following their parents’ separation.

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.”

The Family Solutions Group is marshalling widespread support across all family legal sectors in calling for the end to the use of unnecessary hostile and combative language in family separation.

Katie Johnson, Digital Journalist, Today's Media

Digital Journalist, Today's Media

Contact: katie.johnson@todaysmedia.co.uk



  • I have just come out of 3.5yrs of Family Court Proceedings where there was an unprecedented number of applications and request for intrusive interventions. These were largely brought by an exceedingly aggressive barrister from 1GC who was also a part time judge in the same court. He bypassed the usual processes to bring monthly hearings which regardless of what they were listed as were all for directions. He used extremely aggressive and adversarial language. Despite a FFH, expert witness and a long line of SW’s dismissing PA, he persisted with this false narrative. He produced a shopping list of directions all of which we always agreed and if he thought of something else he would get his colleagues to change it after the event. He promised father from the outset that there would be transfer of residence and that I would be asked to leave my own home so that he could move in. That has not happened but a long list of atrocities have occurred and there is an order which is untenable and already seeing the father manipulate and abuse us. Changing the language doesn’t go far enough.

    I was dragged back to Court more than 25 times in private proceedings by what The Rt. Hon. Jess Philips MP called ‘fancy lawyers’. It has scarred me for life and the vitriol that has been written about me whilst portraying our abuser as the victim should see those responsible hang their heads in shame. We will never be safe unless and until there is radical change in the Family Court.

  • Well said there Lily. Isn’t this another gaslighting attempt from the judiciary? Most safe parents are amicable and do not even approach courts. The vast majority of cases are abusers and victims. Trying to force them to ‘play nice’ and ‘mediate’ not only gaslights victims, it is completely inappropriate and will lead to yet more risks for adult and child victims.

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