Losing Parental Responsibility: Process, Rights and Law
What is Parental Responsibility?
In the 1989 Children’s Act, “Parental Responsibility” is defined as being as being:
“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”. It therefore refers to the duties encompassed within the parental role, rather than the parent’s rights over their child.
These duties include:
- Providing a home for the child
- Looking after the child’s health
- Choosing and providing for the child’s education
- Disciplining the child
- Looking after the child’s property
Parental responsibility is constant, and cannot be transferred. Even in cases where a child is being looked after by a family member, childminder, or in an educational setting, the parents are still responsible for making such arrangements and ensuring they are suitable. These temporary carers do not have parental responsibility, but have reasonable authority to make decisions regarding the safeguarding and welfare of a child whilst in their care.
Those with parental responsibility, regardless of whether they live with a child, have the right to be consulted on important decisions about the child’s upbringing, for example: medical treatment, moving the child abroad, or a change of school.
Who has Parental Responsibility?
A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. If a father is either married to the child’s mother at the time of birth, or listed on the birth certificate, he too will have parental responsibility from the child’s birth.
What about Child Support?
By law, parents have to ensure that their children are supported financially, regardless of whether they have parental responsibility or not.
The law treats Parental Responsibility and child maintenance as being completely separate. An unmarried father who does not have Parental Responsibility still has a duty towards his child to provide child support maintenance. An unmarried father without Parental Responsibility will also still have some rights, for example:
- he has an automatic right to apply to the court for certain court orders in respect to his child; and
- if the child is in Local Authority care, he has a right to have reasonable contact with his child.
How to obtain Parental Responsibility
If a father is neither married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, or listed on the child’s birth certificate, he can obtain Parental Responsibility by:
- getting a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and taking it to the local family court to have it signed and witnessed.
- getting a parental responsibility order from a court
A court order will consider the following factors in its decision to grant Parental Responsibility:
- The father’s degree of commitment to the child
- The state of the father’s current relationship with the child
- The reason for making the application.
Other adults who are connected to a child can obtain parental responsibility by the same methods, though there will be different forms for this. They could be the child’s step-parent or second female parent.
Can a mother lose parental responsibility?
A mother can only lose parental responsibility for her child if said child is adopted.
Can a father lose parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility can only be terminated by the Court.
Termination of parental responsibility usually only occurs when the child is adopted or the individual acquired parental responsibility via a court order in the first place.
However, in exceptional circumstances, it is also possible for a Court to terminate a father’s parental responsibility if neither of the above are true. There are only a few examples of this happening in the UK.
There are, however, many orders that judges will more routinely make to protect the interests of children such as Child Arrangements orders, specific issue or prohibited steps orders. This means it is much more common for courts to significantly limit a father’s presence in a child’s life, without actually removing his parental responsibility.
Under what circumstances could a father lose parental responsibility?
The only way to remove parental responsibility is through an application to the court and these applications are very rarely successful.
In order to lose parental responsibility, a father’s behaviour must have been exceptional or extreme. The following circumstances are not considered grounds for the removal of Parental Responsibility:
- Being absentee or inconsistent
- The child does not want to see the father
- The father won’t pay child support
Other court orders, including Child Arrangements orders and prohibited steps orders, are more appropriate in most circumstances, rather than trying to remove parental responsibility.
However, in the limited number of example cases, a father has usually been guilty of neglect, abuse or criminal behaviour towards the child and the decision to remove parental responsibility has been taken in order to protect the child’s best interests.
What can I do if I am in conflict with a co-parent about parental responsibility?
Firstly, losing parental responsibility is extremely rare. It is far more likely that the outcome of court proceedings will be a modification of the arrangements made for that child. For example, the limitation of time spent with one parent, if it is deemed to be in the child’s best interests.
Before escalating to court involvement, however, it is important to seek legal advice and explore options such as family mediation in order to resolve parental responsibility disputes.
Ultimately, people must make their own decisions as to the right course of action to take which best safeguards the emotional wellbeing of those involved, and most importantly, the best interests of the child in question.
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