Father loses 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:
- he is married to the mother; or
- 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
- if he entered into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother; or
- 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 2 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 a very recent case considered by the High Court earlier this year, 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.
Interestingly in this case, the father has retained the ability to make further applications to the Court with respect to his son, although of course, the Court’s paramount consideration when determining any such application will be the child’s welfare and it is, therefore, difficult to imagine any application being successful in the foreseeable future.