He claimed there is “nothing worse” for children to hear their separated mothers and fathers calling each other worthless while arguing over access, pointing out that children usually feel loyalty towards both parents.
Sir Nicholas – famous for quoting Philip Larkin’s poem on the damage caused by parents in a judgement – said they should think beyond their next meeting with their children and bear in mind what their relationship with them will be like when they grow up.
He made his comments on Sunday in a speech to Families Need Fathers, a charity that supports divorced and separated parents, which welcomed it as an “important contribution” to the debate over care for children in broken homes.
In his speech, Sir Nicholas said that he wanted the family justice system to become “less adversarial” although he admitted this would be difficult, particularly as separating parents “rarely behave reasonably”.
He said Parliament, rather than judges, must decide if shared parenting orders – where children live with each parent at different times – are to become the norm instead of living with one parent and having regular contact with the other.
But Sir Nicholas made it clear that he believed it is important for both parents to carry on playing equally important roles in their children’s lives.
“In the same way as it takes two human beings to create a child, and since most children learn their attitudes about the world in general and the opposite sex in particular from their parents, the best upbringing for most children is in a household where there are two loving parents,” he said.
“The separated parent’s role in the lives of his or her children retains the same degree of importance as when the parents were living together, even if the opportunities to manifest the qualities which an absent parent can bring to his children may be limited.”
He described separation as a “serious failure of parenting” but went on: “Mutual recrimination post separation rarely achieves anything. What matters is the enduring relationships.
Sir Nicholas also said: “There is nothing worse, for most children, than for their parents to denigrate each other. If a child’s mother makes it clear to the child that his or her father is worthless – and vice versa – the child’s sense of self-worth can be irredeemably damaged. Parents simply do not realise the damage they do to their children by the battles they wage over them.
“This does not mean, of course, to say that you should not seek contact with or the residence / shared residence of your children. But if you do, remember that what ultimately matters is how your child turns out as an adult, and your long-term relationship with that child in adulthood.
“A residential parent who obstructs contact is, in my experience, storing up substantial problems for him or herself when the child becomes an adult, seeks out the residential parent and realises that she or she is not the ogre which has been described.”
Last year while ruling on a residence order for a nine year-old boy whose parents were divorcing, Sir Nicholas quoted Larkin’s 1971 poem This Be The Verse, saying: "They ---- you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.”