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When Can Parental Responsibility be Removed?

View profile for Claire Howard
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I have recently handled an unusual case where the issue for consideration was whether parental responsibility could be removed from a married father. In order to consider whether parental responsibility can be removed, the question that must first be asked must be what is parental responsibility.

 

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility governs parents’ relationship with their children. It gives the parties with parental responsibility the ability to make decisions (usually jointly where more than one party has it) which often include medical decisions, schooling, names and religion.

Where more than one party has parental responsibility, they cannot make decisions unilaterally, they must seek the other party’s agreement. Parental responsibility is automatically equal – neither party’s parental responsibility is more important than the other’s.

Realistically, most parents are sensible with how they use parental responsibility – it would be unnecessary for both parties to need to agree on day to day decisions such as bedtimes or wardrobe choices, it really comes into effect on the larger decisions which will impact on the children’s lives.

How is parental responsibility acquired?

Most parents automatically acquire parental responsibility, these are, in brief, as follows:

  • Birth mothers;
  • Fathers married to the birth mother prior to the child being born;
  • Unmarried fathers who are registered on the child’s birth certificate on or after 1 December 2003; and
  • Civil partners and partners of birth mothers registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate.

For those parties that do not have automatic parental responsibility there are mechanisms in which it can be acquired depending on their relationship with the child. However, this is not an area I propose to consider within this article. I would instead refer you to our website https://www.familylawgroup.co.uk/site/legal-services/children/parental-responsibility/ which provides more information surrounding this.

 

How can parental responsibility be removed?

The law governing removal of parental responsibility is complex, as it should be for such an important area of law. Each case will always be considered on its own merits and, each practitioner will likely have slightly different views of the level of significance each consideration should be given.

The case law in this area shows that removal of parental responsibility is possible in extreme cases but should only be ordered when it is necessary to protect the child and family from serious emotional and physical harm, this in effect, is the court ensuring that the child’s welfare is paramount.

The leading case law in this area shows that removal of parental responsibility has only been ordered where it has been acquired by an unmarried father. These cases include examples such as where a father was found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm to the child (Re P (Terminating parental responsibility) [1995] 3 FCR 753]), where a father pleaded guilty for committing sexual assault against the child’s siblings (CW v SG [2013] All ER (D) 117 (Apr)) and where a father was imprisoned for extreme domestic violence (A v D (Parental Responsibility) [2013] EWHC 2963 (Fam))

I have recently worked on a case where the father’s behaviour met the threshold for removal of parental responsibility but the parties were married. As such, the Court found that they did not have jurisdiction to remove the father’s parental responsibility given that the parties were married when the child was born. Instead, the Court made the decision to limit the father’s parental responsibility by way of making a prohibited steps order (explanation here https://www.familylawgroup.co.uk/site/blog/flg-news/disagreements-and-decisions-about-your-children) to prohibit him from taking any steps in exercising his parental responsibility. Whilst in this case, this is not complete removal, it does at least render the father’s parental responsibility virtually unusable.

It is clear therefore, that in removing parental responsibility, firstly the behaviour must warrant it in order to protect the child and secondly, the parties must be unmarried. In cases where parental responsibility was acquired by virtue of the father’s marriage to the birth mother prior to the child’s birth, the court’s approach seems to be that parental responsibility could be limited beyond use but not completely removed.

Removal of parental responsibility is a very serious step reserved for exceptional cases. For further information please contact Claire Howard on 01908 787900 or email claire.howard@familylawgroup.co.uk

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