Concept for - Parental Responsibility - can it be terminated?

Parental Responsibility is all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. This is taken from section 3 of the Children Act 1989. In plain English, the key point is that it is responsibility rather than just rights and is aimed to recognise more accurately the role of a parent. There is no finite list of all of the rights and duties recognised in law under the term Parental Responsibility as it is recognised that these things can change over time. But can Parental Responsibility be terminated?

Who has Parental Responsibility?

The biological mother of a child will always have Parental Responsibility. It can only be removed in limited situations. The making of an adoption order or a parental order will remove Parental Responsibility. I discuss this in more detail below. The position is different for a father or another parent. Where reference is made to terminating Parental Responsibility this is ignoring situations such as the making of adoption or parental orders which extinguish Parental Responsibility.

If parents are married or civil partnered at the time a child is born, they will each share Parental Responsibility. If they subsequently marry or become civil partners after the birth then the other parent will acquire Parental Responsibility also. This includes those who are deemed to be parents under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. This therefore includes cases where there has been assisted reproduction, including second female parents.

The law is clear that a father with Parental Responsibility by marriage cannot have his Parental Responsibility terminated. There has been case law to confirm this. It should also be borne in mind that the Court will not terminate Parental Responsibility that is granted to an unmarried father by way of a child arrangements order, during the lifetime of that child arrangements order.

Terminating Parental Responsibility – when is this possible?

The cases where Parental Responsibility is removed are few and far between. Parental Responsibility can be terminated only in exceptional circumstances. To give an indication of the circumstances there was a reported case Re P (terminating Parental Responsibility) (1995) which involved an application by a mother to terminate a Parental Responsibility agreement. At the time, she was unaware(?) that the father had caused the child serious and potentially disabling injuries. The Court decided that the agreement should be revoked on the grounds of the child’s welfare. There was a more recent case of A v D (Parental Responsibility) (2013) where the circumstances of the case involved a father having been extensively violent towards the mother which the child had witnessed. In addition to the mother having been given permission to change the child’s surname on account of the circumstances of the case, the Court found that the father should not have Parental Responsibility. There were significant concerns with respect to the mother’s and the child’s safety.

There is an even more recent case of D v E (Termination of Parental Responsibility) (2021) where the mother had applied to terminate the father’s Parental Responsibility. This involved a case with the father having a significant offending history and the Court determined that the father continued to prevent a risk of serious harm to both the child and the mother and after he had initially acquired Parental Responsibility by being registered as the child’s father on the birth certificate, the Court subsequently ordered that he should lose his Parental Responsibility.

As is said above, there are limited circumstances when either parent loses their Parental Responsibility by virtue of an adoption order and another example of this would be a parental order in circumstances where there is a surrogacy arrangement. The key principle in terms of fathers having their Parental Responsibility terminated is that it is very rare and requires significant circumstances to warrant the removal. In the case of the married father, where it is not possible for Parental Responsibility to be terminated (where adoption or a parental order is not relevant) the Court does have the power to heavily restrict how Parental Responsibility is exercised. This can have a similar impact and so is worth bearing in mind.

Next steps

If you need more information or advice on issues surrounding Parental Responsibility, please contact our Children team.

This article is part of a series on Parental Responsibility. If you would like to learn more about Parental Responsibility, please click here for the full series.