• 3 min read

Can a father lose parental responsibility?


Whilst a mother automatically has parental responsibility on the birth of her child, a father can only share parental responsibility with her in certain circumstances.

He can share parental responsibility if:

  1. he is married to the mother; or
  2. the mother consented to him being named on the child’s birth certificate and the birth was registered on or after 1 December 2003; or
  3. if he entered into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother; or
  4. if the Court makes an Order that affords him parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility continues until the child reaches the age of 18 and enables both parents to be consulted as to important decisions that need to be made with reference to the child including his health, education and religious upbringing.

Parental responsibility can only be terminated by the Court and this usually only happens if a child is adopted or the Court discharges an Order that resulted in parental responsibility being acquired.

However, in exceptional circumstances, it is also possible for a Court to terminate a father’s parental responsibility for his child(ren).  There have only been a handful of reported cases where this has happened.

In 1995, a father who had been afforded parental responsibility by entering into a formal agreement with the mother, had his parental responsibility terminated by the Court when he was sent to prison for having caused his child serious injury.  The Court in that case concluded that the father had ‘forfeited’ his parental responsibility and that it would never have granted parental responsibility if an application had been made for it.

In 2013, a father’s parental responsibility for his son was terminated following his conviction for sexual abuse of his son’s step-sisters.  The Court was of the opinion that whilst there had been a commitment and attachment between father and son whilst in the same household, this had been undermined by the father’s abuse of the step-sisters and the father’s subsequent denials of the abuse upon his release from prison, having served his sentence.  No contact had taken place between father and son during the imprisonment and the son had expressed a wish not to have any further involvement with his father.  The child’s emotional needs and the risk of harm to him in the future, coupled with the strain on the mother to provide the father with information about the child as a result of his parental responsibility, against the child’s wishes, led the Court to conclude that his parental responsibility should be terminated.

In another case, also in 2013, the father had committed numerous violence related offences including against the mother leaving her with lasting effects. The child, who had complex needs, had witnessed the father’s violence against the mother.

At the time of the Hearing, the father was serving a term of imprisonment for GBH against the mother and chose not to participate in the proceedings, other than to write to the Court to say that he did not oppose the mother’s applications which included an Order terminating his parental responsibility.

The Court determined that the father had shown a lack of commitment to the child; his interest lay principally in controlling the mother rather than in the child and to leave the mother sharing parental responsibility with the father would be intolerable to her.

In 2016, the father was convicted of sexually abusing his 5 year old daughter.  The mother applied to the Court for permission to change the children’s surname and for an order terminating the father’s parental responsibility.  The Court granted the mother’s applications, considering it necessary to terminate the father’s parental responsibility for both of his children in order to protect their emotional needs and risk of future harm should he seek to locate the children upon his release from a lengthy term of imprisonment.

In a recent case heard in 2021, the Court considered it appropriate and in the best interests of the child’s welfare for the father’s parental responsibility to be terminated upon the mother’s application.  The father had a long history of offences and was convicted for sexual offences against a child.  Although the father was not seeking contact with the child and had not had contact for a considerable period of time, the mother also applied for an order terminating contact and for a change of the child’s name.  These applications were also successful.

The law does not enable a Court to remove parental responsibility from a father who was married to the mother, but it can make Orders which limit the father’s exercise of his parental responsibility if this is considered necessary to protect a child’s welfare. There have been cases where, for example, an order has been made that a father is not allowed to enter a town or indeed a County where the child lives; is not allowed to make contact with the child or the mother and is only permitted to receive information about the child’s education from the school by way of an annual report.

Dawn Gore specialises in arrangements for children following parental separation or divorce. If you need help with a parental responsibility matter, contact Dawn today on 01722 426 945 or get in touch here.

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