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Court terminates father’s parental responsibility

Terminating a father’s parental responsibility is not something the courts take lightly however a recent case has determined that in some circumstances it can be justified.

What exactly is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined in law as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and administration of his or her property.

A person with parental responsibility must be consulted in all major decisions relating to the child for example where the child should go to school, where the child should live, whether the child should be taken outside the UK and whether the child should have any medical treatment.

Who has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for a child however the father will only have parental responsibility if they are or have been married to the mother since the birth of the child or if the child was born after 1st December 2003 they are named as the father on the child’s birth certificate. Parental responsibility can also be granted by way of a formal agreement which is lodged at court, by court order and by other legal proceedings such as adoption.

What circumstances justify removing parental responsibility from a father?

In the first reported judgment on the issue since 1995 EWHC 854 (Fam)], the Judge has terminated the parental responsibility of a father who had been imprisoned for sexual abuse of his own child's half-sisters.

The case involved a child who was born to the parties in 2004. In 2009 the father pleaded guilty to sexual offences committed on two of the mother's daughters. The father received a custodial sentence.

Immediately upon the father’s release from prison, the mother issued an application to terminate his parental responsibility.  The father applied to court for an order requiring the mother to supply annual reports as to the child's progress.

The previous reported case on this issue was in 1995 1 FLR 1048 at 1053].  In that case the Judge allowed an application to terminate parental responsibility in relation to a father who had been sent to prison for causing serious injuries to his child. The judge held that the order was justified as the father had "forfeited" his parental responsibility and, in considering whether parental responsibility should be terminated the court took into account the factors they consider when determining whether to grant parental responsibility in the first place.

The judge in the recent case concluded that the "magnetic factors" were the child’s emotional needs, the harm the child had suffered, and the risk of future harm. The judge concluded that the child’s emotional security would be jeopardized if the father continued to have any further involvement in his life. The father's parental responsibility was terminated and his application for a specific issue order was rejected.

If you need advice on parental responsibility contact our specialise Family Law Team.

By Gemma Hope