Can I Remove Parental Responsibility From The Other Parent?

In England and Wales, the court has the power to remove parental responsibility from an unmarried father. However, this only happens in very limited circumstances.

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By Rachel Ward - 19th May 2021

What is parental responsibility?

Under Section 3 of the Children Act 1989, parental responsibility is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.”

Parental responsibility usually lasts until the child is 18 years old. It gives someone the right to make key decisions about the child’s care and upbringing, such as:

  • The child’s name
  • The medical treatment the child should or should not receive
  • The religion the child should practice
  • Where the child should go to school
  • Where the child should live
  • Whether the child should move abroad
  • New arrangements for dealing with the child’s property and finances

All mothers automatically have parental responsibility, as do fathers who are married to the mother at the time of the birth, or who are registered on the birth certificate. Fathers can also acquire parental responsibility via a voluntary arrangement with the other parent, or through the courts.

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When can parental responsibility be removed?

Most people enquire about how to obtain parental responsibility. But what if you want to terminate the other person’s responsibility? This question typically arises where one parent has become estranged from the child, or poses a threat to the child’s welfare.

Parental responsibility can only be terminated by the court. This usually only happens if a child is adopted or the father’s behaviour warrants the removal of parental responsibility. However, there have only been three cases dealing with the latter issue since the Children Act 1989 was passed.

The circumstances must be exceptional for a court to terminate parental responsibility. The reported cases are as follows.

Case one

In 1995, a father who had been afforded parental responsibility by entering into a formal agreement had his parental responsibility terminated by the court when he was sent to prison for having caused a child serious injury. The court in that case concluded that the father had forced his parental responsibility and that it would never have granted parental responsibility if an application had been made.

Case two

In 2013, a father’s parental responsibility for his son was terminated following his conviction for sexual abuse of his son’s step-sisters. The court was of the opinion that whilst there had been a commitment and attachment between father and son whilst in the same household, this had been undermined by the father’s abuse of the step-sisters. No contact had taken place between the father and son during the imprisonment and the son had expressed a wish to have no further involvement with his father. The child’s initial needs and risk of harm of him in the future, coupled with the strain on the mother to provide the father with information about the child as a result of his parental responsibility, against the child’s wishes, led the court to conclude that his parental responsibility should be terminated.

Case three

In another case also in 2013, the father had committed numerous violent related offences including against the mother leaving her with lasting effects. The child, who had complex needs, had witnessed the father’s violence against the mother. At that hearing the father was serving a term of imprisonment for GBH and chose not to participate in those proceedings, except to write to the court to say that he did not oppose the mother’s applications which included an order terminating his parental responsibility. The court determined that the father had shown a lack of commitment to the child, and his interest lay principally in controlling the mother.

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What about married fathers?

The law does not enable a court to remove parental responsibility from a father who was married to the mother. However, it can make orders which limit the father’s exercise of his parental responsibility if this is considered necessary to protect the child’s welfare.

Should you require any further information in relation to parental responsibility, please do not hesitate to contact our family law solicitors for a free initial enquiry.

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