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Changing the Vocabulary Around Non-Custodial Parenting

In negotiating parenting plans for nearly 20 years, I have gradually eliminated a few different words from my vocabulary.  For example, it's been a long time since I've used the words "visit" or "visitation" to describe what a non-custodial parent does when he or she is with his or her children - regardless of whether it's related to a Wednesday night dinner, a full weekend of overnights from Friday pick-up to Sunday night drop-off, or an extended period of vacation.  

I'm unable to count the number of times I've heard others (even Judges) make the mistake of using the "V" word in the context of arguing for, negotiating, or ordering an age and developmentally appropriate parenting plan on a case-by-case basis.  One major problem with the "V" word is that if a parent is "visiting" a child, a child often feels he or she has the right to refuse such contact (especially if the other parent is encouraging the child to refuse contact).  Likewise, if one parent is merely "visiting" with his or her child, the other parent, who schedules other events during the pre-arranged/cour-ordered time for such a "visit" often feels justified in doing so because, after all, it's merely a "visit" and it can be rescheduled like a play-date or a music lesson.  The court system certainly didn't help the situation by creating and distributing court forms that referred to "visitation" - until now.

Effective July 15, 2015 the term "visitation" will be replaced with "parenting time" on the following Probate and Family Court Forms:

-CJD 103 Complaint for Civil/Criminal Contempt

-CJD 106 Complaint to Establish Paternity

-CJD 109 Complaint for Custody-Support-Parenting Time

The term will also be replaced on the following Probate and Family Court website pages:

-Self-help related to custody and parenting time

-Uniform Fee Schedule

In a recent press release from the Probate & Family Court, the Court explained the following: "The changes have been made to reflect the already widespread use of the term 'parenting time' in Massachusetts and to more closely follow the national trend of ensuring that parents are not marginalized in their children's lives and not intended to amend grandparent visitation or supervised visitation."

I take my hat off to the Court for implementing this change.  I hope that practitioners will follow suit and implement their own changes in how they express themselves to courts, with fellow practitioners, and, most importantly, with their clients.

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