Can I lose Parental Responsibility for my children?

What is Parental Responsibility (PR)

Parental Responsibility (PR) means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child (section 3(1), Children Act 1989 (CA 1989)).  This could include making decisions about the child’s accommodation, education and medical treatment.

If a child’s parents are married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born, both of them automatically have PR (section 2(1), CA 1989).

If the parents are not married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born, only the mother automatically has PR.

The father can acquire PR if he:-

  • Is registered as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate;
  • marries the mother or enters into a civil partnership with her;
  • enters into a PR agreement with the mother;
  • obtains a court order giving him PR;
  • becomes the child’s guardian; or
  • adopts the child.

Discharging of parental responsibility

In the English law there is no provision for a mother’s PR to be discharged.

There is disparity in the law with regards to married and unmarried fathers and their PR.

PR that is acquired by virtue of a father being married to the child’s mother when the child is born (under section 2 of the CA 1989) cannot be extinguished, whereas an unmarried father’s PR can be.

An unmarried father can lose PR if:-

  • the child is adopted;
  • a court decides to terminate the PR because an application for discharging the PR has been made;
  • a court cancels a special order that gave you PR.

Someone with PR for the child or the child itself can apply to discharge PR, in these circumstances.

Applications to discharge PR are the exception rather than the norm and are only ordered when it is necessary to protect the child and family from serious emotional and physical harm.

The disparity between married and unmarried fathers and PR is demonstrated in the recent case of F v M (Rev1) [2023] EWFC 5 where findings were made of coercive and controlling behaviour by the father, who was described as a ‘profoundly dangerous young man’. The father automatically had PR for his children as he was married to their mother, when the children were born.

He was considered so dangerous to the children, the only exposure he was permitted to them was one letter to the children per year.  The general consensus was that if the father had acquired PR but he wasn’t married at the time of the birth, then it should be revoked.

The Judge in this case expressed his discomfort about the anomaly between married and unmarried fathers and PR, but accepted that the children could be protected by the use of certain court orders.

He said, although the “legal status of a married father remains intact…it can be stripped of any potency to reach into the lives of the mother and children… thus adversely impacting his ability to affect the welfare of either”.

Ultimately, it is important to note that PR is very important and whether you automatically acquire it or need to take active steps to do so, it is something that each and every parent should have for all of their individual children.

Should you have any doubt over whether you have PR for your children or not, please get in touch for expert advice.

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