As a law firm we understand that families can go through hard times as well as good times. Often, when issues arise they can be sorted out. Alternatively, the issues cannot be completely fixed but a reasonable compromise can be made, and people can come to an arrangement that works for everyone. However, when things are irresolvable and the relationship has completely broken down, people will sometimes want to put as much distance as they can between themselves and someone they once considered family, particularly when children are involved or when safety becomes an issue.
A case we will be looking at today involves a woman who wanted to halt her ex partner’s relationship with herself and her two daughters by terminating the father’s parental responsibility. We will explore what parental responsibility is, when it can be removed, and take a look at the case itself to explore this topic further.
What is parental responsibility?
Essentially, parental responsibility is exactly what it sounds like. All mothers and most fathers have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent – known as ‘parental responsibility’.
If you have parental responsibility, your key roles are to:
- provide a home for the child
- protect and maintain the child
You are also responsible for:
- disciplining the child
- choosing and providing for the child’s education
- agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
- naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
- looking after the child’s property
If the parents are separated, the parent who lives with the children must still include the other parent when making important decisions in the child’s life, for example moving abroad.
When can parental responsibility be terminated?
Obviously, terminating parental responsibility is a huge decision. It is a matter that will be decided by the courts and the law around this issue is suitably complex; each case is assessed individually on its own terms. It is worth noting that it is usually in very extreme circumstances that a termination of parental responsibility will be considered, for example if the parent has become a danger to the children or the other parent.
Unless the child is adopted, parental responsibility cannot be officially removed from the mother, although of course if the mother has become a danger to the children her contact with them can be limited and controlled. Similarly, if the parents are married parental responsibility cannot be officially removed from the father, but contact between him and the children can be controlled.
When it comes to a father who is not married to the mother, parental responsibility is very unlikely to be officially removed for things such as not paying child maintenance, not showing interest in the child or refusing to see the child. It is more common for responsibility to be removed in cases of abuse or putting the child’s life in danger intentionally.
Let’s look at a real case
In a recent case, Child X and another A mother v A father the mother wanted to terminate the father’s responsibility and also change the children’s surname (to remove their fathers surname).
The father is currently in prison and will not be eligible for release until 2033. He is in prison for the attempted murder of the mother, have stabbed her a staggering 15 times. He was also convicted of stalking, making troubling calls regarding the mother and possessing a deadly weapon. The mother therefore brought the two applications to the court in response to this behaviour.
What did the courts decide?
The courts accepted the mother’s request, which is not surprising considering the extreme nature of the situation. Key factors were that the father was a clear danger to the mother and children, and they were unmarried so there was no barrier there. Also, the fact that the father will be in prison for a long time means that he will not be able to exercise his responsibility as a father in a significant way, which he had not been doing while out of prison either.
It was also decided that the emotional welfare of the children would benefit from his responsibility to them being as a father being removed, and that he could potentially use his responsibility to coerce the mother.
In terms of the name change, the courts saw no reason as to why this should not happen. One of the children had no memory of the father, while the other attributed past traumas to experiences involving the father. Therefore, it was decided that to permit the mother to change their names would be consistent with their welfare and allow her to act protectively of her children. Further, the children had no close relationships with any extended paternal family members.
What do we think?
When it comes to the case above, we are in full agreement with the court’s decision. The case clearly met the threshold of extremity needed for such drastic measures, and the safety of the children and the mother was greatly improved with the father parental responsibility being terminated. The changing of the name will also allow the children to detach themselves from the father with greater ease, and hopefully lead them to live happier and fuller lives.
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