Family Law Blog

Parental Responsibility and When It Can Be Terminated

20 November 2013, by Taylor King Family Law Solicitors

Parental responsibility is all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property.

The mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility.

Since December 2003 fathers who were married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, or married the mother after the birth, automatically have parental responsibility. For all unmarried fathers, or married fathers of children born prior to December 2003, parental responsibility can only be obtained with the mother’s consent (by written agreement or registering the father’s name on the birth certificate) or by order of the court.

Step parents or civil partners who play a parental role in the life of a child can obtain responsibility with the formal agreement of both parents with parental responsibility. A non parent can apply to the court either for a parental responsibility order or a residence order. A residence order automatically grants parental responsibility.

Married fathers cannot have parental responsibility terminated under a court order.

Applications to terminate parental responsibility can be made by anyone with parental responsibility in respect of the child and, with leave of the court, the child itself.

There is a presumption that, once granted, the termination of parental responsibility should continue indefinitely. The welfare of the child is paramount and the court must ensure that making such an order is only used as an appropriate step in the regulation of the child’s life where the circumstances really do warrant it and not otherwise.

In the case of A v D (Parental Responsibility) [2013] EWHC 2963 (Fam) the mother made an application for a residence order, permission to change the child’s name and for an order terminating the father’s parental responsibility. The father had a long history of violent offences and the mother was victim to severe domestic violence from the father leaving her with post-traumatic stress disorder. The child had witnessed the violence and had complex needs.

At the time of the hearing the father was serving a term of imprisonment for GBH and did not attend. He did however write to the court indicating that he did not oppose the mother’s applications.

The judge held that the father’s parental responsibility should be terminated. He had shown a lack of commitment to the child, his interest lay principally in controlling the mother rather than in the child and it would be intolerable for the mother to continue sharing parental responsibility with the father.

A father whose parental responsibility has been terminated is not however barred from making a future application for contact, or from re-applying for parental responsibility.