Married fathers: an exceptional parental responsibility status?

Recent case law and statutes have reiterated time and again the importance of the child’s welfare. How does this link with parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined as the ‘rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. Here, there is a causal link between the parents’ responsibilities and duties towards the child and the child’s welfare. All gestational/birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children. Fathers, on the other hand, obtain this status in different ways- by either being married to the mother of the child, by being registered on the birth certificate (since 1.12.2003) or via a parental responsibility agreement/order.

Why is parental responsibility so important and can it ever be revoked?
Parental responsibility enables parents to understand what they can/cannot unilaterally do in relation to their child. The law, however, seems slightly unclear in explaining what happens to the status should parents fall below the expected standard. In the case of C v D (Parental Responsibility) [2018] the father lost his parental responsibility as the court found that if he continued to have parental responsibility this would have a detrimental impact on his child’s welfare. Here, the father had parental responsibility by way of being registered on the birth certificate. The father’s controlling behaviour was unacceptable and he was even banned from the school for his behaviour towards staff and in front of other pupils. The courts in this case have set a high threshold – a father’s parental responsibility can only be revoked if there are an exceptional set of circumstances.

The question is, though, does this also apply to fathers married to the mother who automatically acquire parental responsibility? Parental responsibility for gestational/birth mothers and fathers married to the mother is usually not removed other than in adoption cases. But what if the case of C v D had involved a father who was or had been married to the mother? Would the courts have decided to revoke his parental responsibility? Or is the married father’s parental responsibility an exceptional status which means that a married father cannot ever lose parental responsibility?

The law on this point leaves these questions unanswered for now.What is clear is that the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration.

For further information or advice about legal matters relating to your children or any other family law issue please contact Sarah French or another member of the Moore Blatch family team.