Removing parental responsibility is a complex matter, resolved by the Court.
If you are in a situation where you are facing a change in parental responsibility, you may be wondering what the next steps are, and what you can or need to do throughout the process.
What constitutes as parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility refers to the legal rights, duties and obligations that parents have in relation to their child and their property. This includes amongst other things:
- Providing a safe home
- Meeting their child's needs
- Ensuring the proper arrangements for their child’s care, education, and health
- Deciding whether or not their child will be brought up in a certain faith.
When does parental responsibility end?
Parental responsibility comes to an end once the child reaches 18 years of age.
Whilst children can leave home at 16, or be asked to move out by their parents, their parents are still legally responsible for their child until they reach 18 meaning they must make sure their child has somewhere safe to stay.
How is parental responsibility acquired?
Mothers automatically have parental responsibility when a child is born.
For a father to seek/obtain responsibility, they must be married to the mother of the child at the time of the birth. If the parents were to later divorce, then the father would still retain his Parental Responsibility.
Fathers who are not married to the mother at the time of the birth do not automatically have parental responsibility but can acquire it if the father’s name is placed on the birth certificate after 1st December 2003.
A father can also obtain parental responsibility via an agreement or court order.
Other people can also share parental responsibility through the making of a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order For example, if a child is removed by the court from a parent, the Local Authority may invite the court to agree that the child is placed with his or her grandparents or another relative or close family friend, rather than being placed in Foster Care. This would mean that the Local Authority does not need to share parental responsibility with the parents but by virtue of the orders made, the Grandparents or other persons share parental responsibility with the parents and are trusted to make decisions about the child. A Special Guardianship Order provides a higher level of parental responsibility than the parents have, whereas a Child Arrangements order gives equal parental responsibility to the carer.
The Grandparents or other relatives or friends will need to be assessed to ensure they will be good carers before parental responsibility can be shared with them.
What is a child arrangements order?
A Child Arrangements Order is an order that determines whom a child is going to live with or spend time with.
Child Arrangements Orders can be made either on an interim basis throughout proceedings or at the conclusion of the proceedings.
If a Child Arrangements Order is made, whether it’s interim or full, that person will share parental responsibility with the mother and the father, if he has it too, and it will be equal to that of the parents. The parental responsibility will remain in place for the life of the order and will only be removed from that person if the order is discharged.
This can be obtained through a court order or an agreement.
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order is an order made by the court that allows a child to live with a family member or close family friend, after they have been positively assessed and replaces adoption. It therefore provides the child with a level of permanence and security. The order grants enhanced parental responsibility to the relative/friend, so that the relative/friend can override any decisions that the parents may make if necessary. Parental responsibility will only last for the duration of the order, but the Special Guardianship Order is a more difficult order to overturn than a Child Arrangements Order. The family member/friend should receive support from the Local Authority and may also receive an allowance to look after the child.
How is parental responsibility removed?
The only way a mother’s parental responsibility can be removed is through adoption. When a child is adopted, all birth ties are cut, and so parental responsibility for the mother is extinguished. This also applies to fathers with parental responsibility.
Otherwise, in order to remove parental responsibility from an unmarried father, the court must be satisfied that it is necessary to do so, to protect the child from serious emotional, physical or sexual harm. It is extremely rare to do so, and the child’s welfare is the most important issue to consider. Previous examples include where a father has been found guilty of inflicting grievous bodily harm to the child or for committing sexual assault against the children’s siblings.
You should always seek legal advice in these situations.
The court won’t remove parental responsibility just because the father doesn’t want contact with his child – if it’s the father’s decision to walk away, or he is not actively involved in his child’s life or because he does not pay child maintenance.
It is not possible for the court to remove parental responsibility from a father who was married to the mother and obtained parental responsibility this way, but the court can make orders which limit the father’s use of his parental responsibility, if it is necessary to safeguard and protect the child. In such cases, the court will look at other orders that could impact the father’s involvement, such as a prohibited steps order, which prohibits the father’s role rather than going to the extreme measure of extinguishing his parental responsibility altogether.
The court will always take into consideration the human rights of the child and the parents when considering whether to remove parental responsibility from an unmarried father and the overriding concern for the court is the child's welfare and to be safeguarded from harm.
How can Smith Partnerships’ family law solicitors help?
Smith Partnership's dedicated team of family law solicitors can work with parents throughout proceedings relating to removing parental responsibility, providing sound legal advice and support.
Simply get in touch with us today to find out more about how we can help you.