Many mothers think of themselves as single parents. Many of those mothers will not legally be sole parents as they may share parental responsibility for their child.

As a Cheshire children solicitor, parents often ask me how they can get or lose parental responsibility for their child. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their child so usually parents want to know:

  • Whether on separation or divorce a father has parental responsibility for his child ;and
  • If a father doesn’t have parental responsibility for a child how he can get it ; and
  • If a father does have parental responsibility for his child, whether he can be made to surrender his parental responsibility.

What is parental responsibility?

Understanding what parental a responsibility agreement is is essential to know whether you should have it or need it. It relies on the following:

  • Wanting to get parental responsibility for their child; or
  • Wanting to apply to court for the other parent to lose their parental responsibility

Parental Responsibility is the obligations and responsibilities a parent has for a child. If a parent has parental responsibility for their child, they will:

  • Have a say in how their child should be brought up and in making major parenting decisions such as should the child :
    • change school; or
    • move abroad to live; or
    • Change religion.
  • Have a right to receive certain information, such as school reports and copy medical records ; and
  • Have the ability to consent to matters on behalf of their child, for example, consent to medical treatment for a young child.

Who has parental responsibility for a child?

In order to know if you can make an application to court for the other parent to lose their parental responsibility you first need to know who has parental responsibility and how you can get it.

A person has parental responsibility for a child if they are:

  • The birth mother; or
  • The adoptive parent of a child; or
  • The father of a child who
    • Is or was married to the child’s mother; or
    • If the child was born after the 1 December 2003 is named on the child’s birth certificate ; or
    • Has signed a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother; or
    • Has a parental responsibility order.
  • Looking after a child under a Residence Order ; or
  • Parents via a surrogacy arrangement and have a parental order ; or
  • A step parent of a child and have a parental responsibility agreement or court order.

How do you get parental responsibility?

If you do not automatically have parental responsibility for your birth child you can get parental responsibility through:

How can a mother lose parental responsibility?

A mother can only lose parental responsibility for her child if the child is adopted.

How can a father lose parental responsibility?

If an unmarried father has gained parental responsibility by parental responsibility agreement or court order then an application can be made to court to remove his parental responsibility for the child.

The court will only terminate a father’s parental responsibility if the circumstances are exceptional and the termination of parental responsibility is thought to be in the child’s best interests.

Applying to remove parental responsibility

Applying to court to remove a father’s parental responsibility is rare, as the court has said that they will only remove a father’s parental responsibility if the circumstances are exceptional.

The court will not terminate parental responsibility if:

  • The child doesn’t want contact; or
  • The father won’t see the child ; or
  • The father won’t pay child support ; or
  • The father will not play any part in the child’s life and has ‘’disappeared off the scene’’.

What type of behaviour is exceptional enough to justify terminating parental responsibility?

The court has always said that behaviour has to be exceptional or extreme. Being an absentee or inconsistent father is not considered exceptional.

A recent case resulted in a father losing his parental responsibility. The high court made the decision after hearing that the father referred to his autistic son as ‘’retarded’’, used his parental responsibility to delay medical treatment for the child and written to the mother’s neighbours referring to the child in unpleasant terms. The court thought continued behaviour of this nature would be damaging to the child.

Can a father lose parental responsibility for his child?

To answer the question, yes a father can lose parental responsibility for a child. However, this type of application is very rare and generally, it is better that parents focus on resolving the day to day practicalities of parenting children after a separation or a divorce. That may involve shared parenting or a mainly absentee father who frustratingly wants to dip in and out of the child’s life.

Even though the court will not normally strip a father of his parental responsibility there are various orders that judges will make to protect children such as child arrangements orders, specific issue or prohibited steps orders. These types of children law order do not go to the extreme of removing parental rights but can significantly limit the role a father can play in a child’s life if it is in the child’s best interests for the father’s involvement in the child’s life to be restricted

For information and advice about parental responsibility agreements and parental responsibility court orders and children law please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at [email protected]

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