The recent Family Court decision of H v A (No 1) is an extreme example of some of the difficulties that can arise in disputes between parents with Parental Responsibility in respect of their children.
Parental Responsibility is a legal term which relates to the bundle of rights, duties, powers, and responsibilities a parent has in relation to his or her child. The law in England and Wales provides that:
- Where the father is married to the mother of the child he will automatically have Parental Responsibility for the child.
- Unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility either by :
- where after 1 December 2003, they are named as the father on the birth certificate;
- by entering in to a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother;
- by subsequently marrying the mother; or
- by order of the court
Parents with Parental Responsibility have a duty to consult with one another on issues concerning their children’s welfare.
In H v A, the mother applied to the Court to revoke the father’s Parental Responsibility after he was convicted of arson after setting fire to his own car and deliberately driving in to the family home, where the mother and children were present. Fortunately, the mother and children escaped without being physically harmed, but the ordeal had a significant emotional and psychological impact on the mother and children.
There had also been a history of domestic violence; the father had been convicted of battery against the mother and breaching an injunction to protect the mother.
The Judge found that it was not open to the Court to revoke the father’s Parental Responsibility. The father had Parental Responsibility by virtue of being married to the children’s mother, and it is only open to the Court to revoke the Parental Responsibility of fathers who have acquired it by other routes.
Instead, the father’s Parental Responsibility was heavily limited and the Court prohibited him from taking any steps in exercising his Parental Responsibility in respect of the children. The mother was also relieved of her duty to inform and consult with the father in relation to any issues regarding the children, which was determined to be in the best interests of the children.
Whatever the circumstances, parents dealing with a disagreement regarding their children need to be aware of the legal rights and duties they have in relation to their children, and to each other. Fathers without parental responsibility may benefit from advice about how to acquire it, to ensure that they are consulted and informed about any issues relating to the children.