Skip to main content

Is Visitation an Outdated term?

I once overheard an older relative ask one of my cousins if her husband was babysitting their children.  Since my cousin didn't have the children with her, the older relative was simply asking if the children were with their father.  But my cousin heard it differently.  She answered that he was their father and didn't "babysit", he "parented" their children.

For those who grew up at at time when Ward Cleaver was the typical father figure, only entering the picture to discipline the children or throw a ball with them, if a father is taking care of the children while mom is out that is unusual.  But the newest generation of parents grew up with the hands-on parenting of Dr. Huxtable and Danny Tanner.  To what extent TV is just reflecting the change in societal norms or affecting them is beyond the scope of this post.  But clearly there has been a shift regarding how involved the average father is in the everyday parenting responsibilities.

If the notion that a father could "babysit" his own children is outdated, can we say the same about the notion that a non-custodial parent "visits" his or her own children?

A recent Huffington Post headline regarding Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise raised my ire because of the purposely vague and inflammatory use of the term "full custody."  In my response, I addressed why that term can be so confusing and hurtful.  Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the Huffington Post has again written a headline that is insensitive to these issues: Suri Cruise Prepares To Visit Dad Tom Cruise For First Time Since Parents' Split.

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise released a statement when they settled their divorce that made it clear (at least publicly) that they felt both parents should remain involved in their daughter, Suri's, life.  It's a shame that the media, specifically in this case The Huffington Post, believe it is still appropriate to characterize Dad's time as merely a visit.

Whether in litigation, mediation, or collaborative divorce cases, we encourage our clients to consider what their parenting schedule and parenting plan should be before they worry about the legal labels.   The goal of speaking about parenting in these terms is to refocus separated parents on what is best for their children, rather than who is "winning."  Recognizing the shared roles that parents have and the cooperation necessary to parent a child together even if from separate households is more important that what words we use to describe the arrangement.  

This approach takes the focus off of the language, whether it's the old language of "visitation" or the new language of "parenting time."   It's still important to remember, though, that certain terms can be offensive or hurtful, especially when it comes to a subject as sensitive as taking away someone's children.  Because the term "visiting parent" has come to be considered derogatory it's probably time to retire it.  Speaking about each parent as having parenting time respects them as equal parents even if they don't have equal time.  And respect is something every divorce case could use a little more of.


  1. Gail Packer, Executive Director, Community Dispute Settlement Center, Inc.August 13, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Excellent piece on the impact of language, especially for parents during the often volatile time of divorce..and equally as important for the many professionals working with families during the divorce process. As mediators,we've been promoting your campaign to eliminate the "visitation" wording for some time.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (2021): Big Changes, Little Changes, Typos & some Unexpected Results

UPDATE: The court has released a web calculating version of the 2021 MA Child Support Guidelines Worksheet .  It resolves some of the typos referred to below, but the unexpected calculations still apply. Every four years, per federal mandate, the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court revisits the Child Support Guidelines through the work of a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice.  The 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines were recently posted.  They take effect on October 4, 2021.    If you are interested in a training on all of these changes to the new Child Support Guidelines: DMTA Presents the 2021 MA Child Support Guidelines Update  – Attend this event to learn the key updates you need to know for your mediation clients. Presented by Justin Kelsey of  Divorce Mediation Training Associates  and  Skylark Law & Mediation, PC . For a full comparison of all the  tracked changes between the 2018 and 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines you can download a pdf sho

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days. This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened. In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects: 1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, be

Online Tool for Creating Parenting Plans

It is our hope that all families find a way to resolve conflict peacefully.  This is especially true when children are involved.  Divorced or separated parenting has many complications and the first is just deciding how to share time with a child from two separate households.  Developing a schedule can result in a lot of tension, especially if parents have trouble picturing how this new schedule will interact with their work schedules and the schedules of their children. To help make this easier, we've created an online tool for creating parenting plans that is simple and easy to use: We encourage parents, regardless of the process they are using to divorce, to use this form to assist in evaluating and settling custody disputes. The form allows you to choose between the Model Parenting Plan proposals or customize your parenting plan over a four week period by clicking directly on the form.  When you click on a section of the calendar it switches between Mom and Dad, an