Parental responsibility lasts until a child reaches the age of 18 or marries between the ages of 16 and 18. In reality, it gives parents the responsibility to make important decisions such as the name by which the child is known, medical treatment the child should/should not receive and which school the child should go to. It also enables a father to receive certain information such as school reports and copies of medical records.
Who has parental responsibility?
The child’s mother automatically acquires parental responsibility on the child’s birth. A father can acquire it in the following ways:
- Where he is married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth.
- Where an unmarried father to a child born on or after the 1 December 2003 registered the child’s birth and is named on the child’s birth certificate.
How can parental responsibility be acquired?
Parental responsibility can be acquired by:
- entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother. The agreement needs to be in a prescribed form (PRA1). It must be signed and witnesses – not by a solicitor, but by a court officer, and filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division – the main family court in London. The agreement will end upon the child reaching the age of 18 (or marrying between the ages of 16 and 18)or if the child is adopted. The agreement can also be brought to an end by a court order.
- obtaining a parental responsibility order where the mother will not enter into a parental responsibility agreement.
- marrying the child’s mother. The parental responsibility will not come to an end in the event the parent’s later divorce.
- obtaining a “live with” order (formerly known as a residence order).
- being appointed as the child’s guardian by either the mother or the court. Parental responsibility will only take effect upon the mother’s death.
- stepparents, who can enter into a stepparent parental agreement with the mother and father who have parental responsibility.
Can a father lose parental responsibility?
‘Yes’, but only in very rare circumstances. A mother can apply to court for an order to terminate a father’s parental responsibility. However, it is only granted in a small number of cases where circumstances are exceptional. A father will not lose his parental responsibility for a child where he has committed adultery or is in prison.
Cases in which fathers have had their parental responsibility terminated
- An unmarried father who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment after being found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm to a child. P (Termination of Parental Responsibility)  3 FCR 753.
- An unmarried father, who acquired parental responsibility by being registered on the child’s birth certificate, had it terminated when he was imprisoned after being found guilty of sexual assault on the child’s siblings. CW v SG  All ER (D) 117 (Apr)
- A father who was convicted of and imprisoned for a serious case of domestic violence that included stabbing and punching the mother, some of which was witnessed by the children. Here the court was satisfied that the high threshold required to terminate parental responsibility was met and an order was made to protect the mother and children from a father who posed a serious risk – A v D  EWHC 2963 (Fam)
More recently a case was heard in the High Court, where a father had his parental responsibility terminated after referring to his autistic son as “retarded” and delaying the child’s medical treatment. The case related to a boy born in 2012, whose father had acquired parental responsibility as he was registered on the child’s birth certificate. In 2016 the mother applied for a specific issue order and prohibited steps order that enabled her to take the child for an assessment of his autism and to be immunised in December 2016. In October 2017, a report on the child’s autism was sent to the father. The mother said that the child’s father had repeatedly obstructed her from getting the medical and educational support her son required and was likely to continue to do so. The application was supported by the child’s guardian. The father opposed the application to remove his parental responsibility but was it was terminated as he had not shown any significant commitment to the child, in the sense of being genuinely concerned for his wellbeing. C v D & another  EWHC 3312.
Family law solicitor, Nicola Cancellara, said:
“Very early in my career, I represented a mother, where the unmarried father acquired parental responsibility during the course of the proceedings but had it terminated as a result of being found to have ‘misled’ the judge at the time the parental responsibility order was made.”
When parental responsibility will not be removed from the father
The court’s paramount concern when deciding whether a father should lose parental responsibility for his child is the child’s welfare. Parental responsibility will not be terminated in any of the following circumstances:
- Where a child doesn’t want contact.
- Where a father won’t see the child.
- Where a father won’t pay child support.
- Where a father will not play any part in a child’s life or has ‘disappeared’.
Author: Nicola Cancellara, family solicitor.