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Is it possible for someone to lose parental responsibility?

View profile for Karen Johnson
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Is it possible for someone to lose parental responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is the term used to describe the responsibilities that a person may have in relation to a child and securing that child’s welfare. It covers the right to make decisions about:

  • medical care, 
  • religion, 
  • education and 
  • place of residence. 

It does not relate to financial obligations. Child maintenance, for example, is a liability that exists regardless of parental responsibility. The question as to whether a person should have parental responsibility is also a separate consideration to what arrangements should be in place regarding a child.

Who can have parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is acquired in a number of different circumstances. Mothers who give birth to their child, automatically acquire parental responsibility. Fathers will also automatically have parental responsibility if they are married to the mother at the time of the birth. There are also provisions which allow for parents of children born via IVF or surrogate to acquire parental responsibility as well as unmarried fathers, step parents, special guardians and those named as a person that the child lives with in a child arrangements order.

Can you lose parental responsibility?

The quick answer to that question is yes, however, it is not that straight forward.

Adoption will always terminate the parental responsibility of those who had it prior to the adoption order being made.

Care Orders and Special Guardianship orders have the effect of granting parental responsibility to the local authority or special guardian but do not terminate any existing parental responsibility unless in the case of a care order, the parental responsibility is held as a result of a child arrangements order. Where Care Orders or Special Guardianship orders are made, parental responsibility is shared but the Local Authority or Special Guardian have the ability to make decisions which overrule the other people with parental responsibility on some issues.

People who acquire parental responsibility because a child arrangement order names them as a person with whom the child lives, will only have parental responsibility whilst that order is effective. It is also the case that child arrangements orders, specific issue orders and prohibited steps orders, whilst not terminating parental responsibility, may impose restrictions on how it is exercised.

These represent the most common reasons for parental responsibility being lost or restricted in some way. 

Can the court remove parental responsibility?

There are occasions when the court may remove parental responsibility. 

This can happen where an unmarried father previously acquired parental responsibility or an unmarried woman in a same sex relationship whose partner has a baby via IVF. In this respect, it is important to acknowledge that unmarried parents who acquire parental responsibility are in a more vulnerable situation than married parents. 

That said, the status of having parental responsibility relates to the welfare of the child and not the existence of paternity or parenthood. Where an unmarried father makes an application to the court for parental responsibility, the court will consider the degree of commitment the father has shown to the child, the degree of attachment and the reasons for applying. 

Conversely, similar considerations would apply to a decision to remove that parental responsibility and ultimately any decision would be based upon the welfare of the child. 

An example of this situation is a case I was involved in  where my client (the mother) had become pregnant as a result of being raped by her partner who had then forced her to register his name on the birth certificate as a result of which he acquired parental responsibility. The domestic abuse had continued and fearing for her child, the mother found the courage to seek refuge. Following that, the father had taken no real interest in the child. As a result of what had happened the mother sought to relocate to a new area and change her name and that of the child. In light of her circumstances I advised her to make an application to the court to remove the father’s parental responsibility together with prohibitive steps orders preventing the father from having contact, which was successful much to my client's relief.

Issues such as these can be difficult to navigate and particularly so when there are issues surrounding domestic abuse or other child welfare concerns. Specialist legal advice is key to ensuring the best outcome for you and your child. For a no-obligation chat about how we can help you, I can be contacted on 01206 217305 or karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk

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