The words we use are important. As George Orwell once stated “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Using language that is outdated, inappropriate or confrontational can have significant consequences when trying to resolve issues and find solutions as a result of divorce or separation. In family law, we need to move away from language that promotes conflict and leads to court proceedings, towards a language that puts the welfare of separating families first.

The “What About Me?” report from the Family Solutions Group has highlighted the power that language plays in divorce and separation and identified specific problems that exist as well as making recommendations about how to achieve change by making the language of family law more accessible and less confrontational.

As a result, The Family Law Language Project has been launched. It is a platform that has a mission to help make the family law system more understandable, more accessible and less adversarial by improving the language used. The project has set up a website which provides accessible information about the language of family law using a variety of different media. The project is also using social media to identify language that is either incorrect or damaging so it can help promote use of language that is correct and helpful. If you hear or see any incorrect or damaging language being used please let the Project know either via the contact form on their website or by tagging on social media using the hashtag #thefamilylawlanguageproject. 

If you are going through a divorce or separation what can you do in your communications to defuse, or even prevent, conflict? Committing to the following in the language you use is likely to help you:

  • Communicate with respect and kindness, using first names (rather than “he”, “she” or “they”).
  • Be patient and curious to learn the other person’s perspectives and concerns.
  • Focus on the underlying things that are important and avoid taking positions, making threats or issuing ultimatums.
  • Use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘You’ statements. ‘You’ statements make the receiver feel like they are being blamed and attacked. Instead, when an ‘I’ statement is used the person making the statement takes responsibility for the emotion, opening up an opportunity for a more constructive discussion as the receiver is not put on the defensive. E.g. ‘You are always late home from work, you prioritise your work and don’t care about me’ compared to ‘I feel really lonely when you don’t make it home in time to have dinner with me’. 
  • Refer to ‘our children’ instead of ‘my children’. When one parent refers to the children as ‘my children’, this can be hurtful and make the other parent feel side-lined which will not help resolve matters.   

During a divorce or separation emotions and tensions can be running high therefore being mindful of the words used, whether they are written down or spoken, is essential. The members of Sussex Family Solutions are all experienced and committed to helping separating families in a constructive and non-confrontational way and can help you navigate through the divorce or separation process in a way that minimises conflict. 

Gemma Hope 

Director at Family Law Partners – Specialist Family Law Solicitor, Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator