Parental responsibility is not a right, which every parent is entitled to, no matter what. It is a duty that the law grants to parents, and that the law can take away. Of course, the circumstances in which it will be taken away are going to be rare, and of a very serious nature.
This was demonstrated recently by the extremely sad case K (Cessation of parental responsibility).
The case concerned the welfare of a little boy, who was born last year. His parents are not married, but the father acquired parental responsibility by virtue of being registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate.
At some point last year whilst he was in the sole care of his father the boy was assaulted by the father, who shook him, causing catastrophic injuries. The injuries are horrific and include a traumatic brain injury, a spinal injury and retinal detachment in both eyes. The boy has been left with no ability to take care of his own needs. He has little or no awareness of his surroundings and has a significantly reduced life expectancy. He will require constant care, for what remains of his life. That care is provided by his mother.
Criminal proceedings were taken against the father. He was convicted and is currently serving a term of imprisonment (we are not told how long).
Care proceedings were commenced, but the local authority is no longer seeking a care order, being fully satisfied with the care that the mother is providing for the child. However, the mother, not wanting any form of help or support from the father, applied to the court within those proceedings for an order terminating the father’s parental responsibility. Her application was supported by the local authority and the child’s Guardian.
The father, appearing by video link from prison, opposed the application. He accepted that the child would continue to live with his mother, and agreed that he would not take any steps to involve himself in the child’s life. However, he maintained that he should be provided with an annual update in respect of the child, to be provided by the local authority. He also sought to be informed of the child’s death.
The application was heard by His Honour Judge Greensmith, in the Family Court in Liverpool. His conclusions included the following:
That the father would never play any role in the child’s life, or be allowed to take any responsibility for his welfare.
That he was not satisfied that the father took full responsibility for his actions.
That there was no benefit for the child in any information being passed to the father regarding his health or general welfare.
That the child is in a physical state that he cannot benefit from any involvement in his life by his father.
That the child would benefit by having the father’s parental responsibility removed, as his mother would be more settled without the threat of the father having even the opportunity to interfere in her son’s care.
No advantage for the child
In the circumstances, Judge Greensmith could not find any advantage in the father retaining parental responsibility, and could only see issues which were contrary to the child’s welfare if parental responsibility were to be retained. He was entirely satisfied that it served the child’s welfare for parental responsibility to be terminated, and he, therefore, granted the application.
Lastly, Judge Greensmith found that it would be inconsistent with his reasoning if he were to impose any responsibility on either the mother or the local authority to pass any information regarding the child’s welfare to his father at any time, and neither would it serve the child’s welfare if there was any obligation on the mother or the local authority to advise the father in the event of the child’s death.
The full report of the judgment can be read here.