Society should “welcome and applaud” the radical shift away from children living with their married parents, the country’s most senior family judge has said.
Sir James Munby will shortly retire as President of the Family Division of the High Court.
Family campaigners criticised Sir James’s remarks, with Iain Duncan Smith MP saying the country should be doing more to stop family break-up.
The senior judge, who is also Head of Family Justice for England and Wales, was speaking at a lecture at the University of Liverpool last week.
Asking “What is the family?”, he referred to the “almost infinite variety”, including unmarried couples and children of “polygamous marriages”, same-sex parents and surrogacy situations.
He said people are, “whether through choice or circumstance”, living in families that are removed “from what, until comparatively recently, would have been recognised as the typical nuclear family”.
“This, I stress, is not merely the reality; it is, I believe, a reality which we should welcome and applaud”.
Sir James gave five developments in society which had caused the change, including the availability of travel, reproductive technology, secularism and same-sex unions.
His remarks sparked concern from former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith.
He said: “We ought to be concentrating on helping families stay together rather than helping them break up.”
Duncan Smith added that the State is “afraid of offending people”, and so has “failed to do anything” about family break-up.
“We should be moving to stop family break-up.”
And former barrister Laura Perrins, who now co-edits the Conservative Woman website, cautioned: “The collapse of traditional family structures in Britain is a cause for concern rather than jubilation, given how it has undermined social cohesion, robbed children of security, and places ever greater demands on the public purse.”