A senior family court judge has called for a less adversarial approach in the family justice system to stop parents using children as a "battlefield" and "ammunition".
Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the Family Division of the High Court, made his comments in a speech to the charity Families Need Fathers.
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.
"Parents simply do not realise the damage they do to their children by the battles they wage over them.
"Separating parents rarely behave reasonably, although they always believe that they are doing so, and that the other party is behaving unreasonably."
Children are not "pieces of property which can be parcelled up and moved around at will", he added.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of divorces in England and Wales fell to 121,779 in 2008, the lowest number since 1975.
Yet at least half of divorcing couples in 2008 had least one child under the age of 16.
Sir Nicholas said separating parents should remember that children invariably love and have a loyalty to both parents.
"There is nothing worse, for most children, than for their parents to denigrate each other.
"To use the trite phrase, each parent represents 50% 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.
"I remain of the view that 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."
Craig Pickering from Families Need Fathers said: "I welcome this important contribution to the debate on encouraging shared parenting by divorced or separated parents.
"Generally speaking, children do better in every way if they have two parents in their lives, and the children of separated families are no exception."
- Divorcing parents can 'damage' children, says judge (BBC News)
- Family law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Family law news (The Solicitor)
- Family law Q&A (Community)
- Find a family law solicitor (Contact Law)