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Can parental responsibility be removed from an absent father?

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Firstly, what is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility governs parents’ relationship with their children. Parties with parental responsibility have the ability to make decisions (usually jointly where more than one party has it) including medical decisions, names, education and school choices and religion.

Where more than one party has parental responsibility, they cannot make decisions unilaterally and are required to seek agreement from the other parties with parental responsibility.  Parental responsibility is automatically equal and therefore neither party’s parental responsibility is more important than the other’s.

Who has parental responsibility?

Most parents automatically acquire parental responsibility which are usually acquired in the following ways:

  • Birth mothers;
  • Fathers married to the birth mother prior to the child being born;
  • Unmarried fathers who are registered on the child’s birth certificate on or after 1 December 2003; and
  • Civil partners and partners of birth mothers registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate.

For those parties that do not have automatic parental responsibility there are options/methods in which it can be acquired depending on their relationship with the child

Can parental responsibility be removed?

The law governing the removal of parental responsibility is complex. Each case is always be considered on its own merits.

The case law in this area shows that removal of parental responsibility is possible in extreme cases but should only be ordered when it is necessary to protect the child and family from serious emotional and physical harm.

The leading case law currently shows that removal of parental responsibility has only been ordered where it has been acquired by an unmarried father. These cases include examples such as where a father was found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm to the child, where a father pleaded guilty for committing sexual assault against the child’s siblings and where a father was imprisoned for extreme domestic violence.

Whilst, the Court does not have jurisdiction to remove parental responsibility from a father who was married to the mother at the time that the child was born, the court can limit his parental responsibility. This can be done by imposing a Prohibited Steps Order which can render the parental responsibility as virtually unusable.

Removal of parental responsibility is a very serious step reserved for exceptional cases. For further information please contact the Family Team at Emery Johnson Astills on 0116 2554855 if you need further information or advice.