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Is Visitation an Outdated term?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If the notion that a father could "babysit" his own children is outdated, can we say the same about the notion that a non-custodial parent "visits" his or her own children?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


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