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Daily Mail - Lord Justice Wall Print

Judge attacks 'ogre' parents for damaging children in divorce wars

By Paul Bentley
Last updated at 7:46 AM on 21st September 2010

Hon Mr JUSTICE WALL

Attack: Mr Justice Wall issued a warning to parents not to speak badly of each other in front of their children

Well-educated parents who split up and wage war in court must not speak badly of each other in front of their children, Britain's most senior family court judge has warned.

In an attack on intelligent middle class parents, who he suggested were the worst culprits, Sir Nicholas Wall said separated couples were often 'fighting the battles' of their relationship while using their children as 'both the battlefield and the ammunition'.

The President of the Family Division of the High Court warned that for children there was 'nothing worse' than hearing their parents describe each other as 'ogres' while fighting for access.

Children usually feel loyalty towards both parents, he argued, and hearing slurs made against each one 'irredeemably damaged' a child's sense of self-worth.

Instead, parents should accept separation was 'itself a serious failure of parenting' and work together to keep the damage to a minimum, the judge said.

Sir Nicholas made headlines last year after he quoted Philip Larkin's poem, This Be The Verse, in court to describe the negative effect parents can have on children.

He made his latest comments during a speech to the charity Families Need Fathers, which supports divorced and separated parents.

'Separating parents rarely behave reasonably, although they always believe that they are doing so, and that the other party is behaving unreasonably,' he said.

 

'People think that post-separation parenting is easy. In fact it is exceedingly difficult, and as a rule of thumb my experience is that the more intelligent the parent, the more intractable the dispute.'

Around 136,000 couples a year divorce and half of them have at least one child aged under 16.

Up to 20,000 parents go to court each year to resolve their child access disputes.

Justice

In court: Mr Justice Wall said that for children there was 'nothing worse' than hearing their parents describe each other as 'ogres' in court

Sir Nicholas conceded that while he hoped the family justice system would become 'less adversarial', this was unlikely because parents who split up ' rarely behave reasonably'.

Divorce cases in the family courts can last for many years and contact orders are often repeatedly broken, often by embittered parents seeking to punish their former partners.

Sir Nicholas said feuds over contact were 'rarely about the children concerned'.

'Far more often, the parties are fighting over again the battles of the relationship, and the children are both the battlefield, the ammunition,' he added.

'Often the mother, who finds herself caring for the children, is able to use her power over them to deny the father contact.'

Sir Nicholas said that ultimately it was up to both parents to behave reasonably and to carry on playing equally important roles in their children's lives after separation.

He added: 'There is nothing worse, for most children, than for their parents to denigrate each other.

To use the trite phrase, each parent represents 50 per cent of the child's gene pool. 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.'

He added that parents who spoke badly of their ex-partners in front of their children were only creating problems for themselves further down the line when they would eventually realise 'he or she is not the ogre which has been described'.