Termination of Parental Responsibility is rarely made by the Court and only ever in exceptional circumstances.

Following a recent private family law case acting for a mother who successfully obtained a termination of Parental Responsibility order to end the father’s Parental Responsibility, we asked Laura Martin-Read, Senior Associate Solicitor to explain what Parental Responsibility is and how can it be removed.

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is loosely defined as the rights and responsibilities that come with being a parent.  It importantly gives a parent the right to make, or be involved in, major decisions about a child’s life, such as schooling, medical decisions, overseas travel, names and religion. Parental Responsibility is not really about the day-to-day arrangements, but the key decisions. 

Importantly, Parental Responsibility is equal and where two parties both have Parental Responsibility they should not be making such big decisions on a unilateral basis or without consulting the other parent.  This is different to Child Arrangements where it is not uncommon for a child to live with one parent most of the time and spend time with another parent for less time.  It is important to note that even if a child lives with one parent more than the other, by Court order or by agreement, this does not give them an elevated level of Parental Responsibility.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Some parents automatically have Parental Responsibility.  All birth mothers have automatic Parental Responsibility.  A biological father who is married to the birth at the time of the child’s birth, regardless of being named on the birth certificate, will automatically have Parental Responsibility. 

It is also possible to acquire Parental Responsibility through a number of routes:

  • A biological father being named on a child’s birth certificate at the time of registration;
  • A Civil Partner or partner of a birth mother being named on a child’s birth certificate at the time of registration;
  • A Parental Responsibility Agreement entered into by the mother and other parent;
  • A Parental Responsibility Order, granted by the Court;
  • A Child Arrangements Order stating a child lives with you;
  • A Special Guardianship Order;
  • An Adoption Order.

How can Parental Responsibility be removed?

The short answer is not very easily.

Firstly, the law only allows a parent who has acquired Parental Responsibly to cease having Parental Responsibility.  This means that other than in cases of Adoption a birth mother and a biological father married to a mother at the time of the child’s birth can never have their Parental Responsibility terminated on a permanent basis.

In those such cases, where Parental Responsibility cannot be removed, if there are serious enough concerns about a parent, or their exercise of their Parental Responsibility, the Court can make numerous different orders to restrict their Parental Responsibility by Prohibited Steps Order and Specific Issue Orders.  These can include prohibiting a parent from removing a child from the country, prohibiting a parent from making or being involved in decisions about things like education or medical issues and could include giving the other parent specific permission to make such decisions unilaterally.  Advice from an experienced and specialist family lawyer is essential in such cases.

But if a parent has acquired their Parental Responsibility through one of the routes listed above, an Order terminating that parent’s Parental Responsibility is technically possible.  In reality, the Courts very rarely make such orders – most family lawyers may never see a case where Parental Responsibility is terminated during their whole career.  The law is therefore complex in this area and each case will turn on it’s own merits.  The case law is clear that Parental Responsibility is only to be terminated in exceptional circumstances and usually only where it is absolutely necessary to protect a child from ongoing harm.

A recent development in the case law in 2023 resulted in the removal of a father’s Parental Responsibility in a case where he had in fact applied and sought to have his Parental Responsibility terminated (Re GF (a minor) [2023] EWFC 203).  In the recent case at Machins, the father had similarly indicated he no longer wanted to be a part of the child’s life (although he did not formally apply to the Court to terminate his Parental Responsibility). 

In applying the principles set down in Re GF, the Court accepted that it was not in a child’s best interests for a father who did not want to play any role to retain Parental Responsibility and an order to terminate was granted.  An interesting development indeed.

At Machins Solicitors our team of specialist family lawyers are here to advise on this complex area of law.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

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