Parental Responsibility Update

The removal of parental responsibility is the subject of many client enquiries. There are a large number of cases whereby one parent is looking to remove the other parent from the birth certificate and/or remove the parental responsibility they hold for a child. The process for removing parental responsibility can be long and expensive due to the serious implications that the decision can have. Given this, there is a high threshold that must be met for the court to agree to remove such rights. Generally speaking, if domestic violence or child abuse is involved, the court is more likely to lower this threshold.

In a recent undisclosed case, a judgment was passed down by HHJ Vincent with regards to the removal of parental responsibility and the change of surname for the children in question. It was stated within the judgment that orders which deprive a parent of parental responsibility and remove their surname from a child should only be made by a court if there is a solid and secure evidential and factual basis for doing so. Also, and more importantly, any order that is made by the court must be in the best interests of the child.

Subsequently, within the judgment, certain criteria are set out to help the court establish whether it is appropriate to remove parental responsibility and/or change a child’s surname.

In respect of parental responsibility it was highlighted that:

  • The child’s welfare is to be the court’s paramount consideration.

  • Under Section 4(2A) of the Children Act 1989, only the court can make a decision to bring an end to a person’s parental responsibility.

  • Parental responsibility describes an adult’s responsibility to secure the welfare of a child, which is to be exercised for the benefit of the child, not the adult.

  • The relevant factors to be considered by the court include: the degree of commitment which the parent has shown the child, the degree of attachment which exists between the parent and the child, and the reasons why the application has been made.

  • Article 8 of the European Convention is triggered in respect of all of the family members and any interference to these rights needs to be justified.

In respect of change of name it was highlighted that:

  • The case of Dawson v Wearmouth is relevant. Within this judgment it was stated that changing a child’s surname is a matter of importance and that the welfare of the child is of upmost importance. As well as this, it was highlighted that factors need to be considered in the present and the future.

  • From previous case law, it is standard that the following are importance considerations: the reasons for the initial registration of the surname, future and present factors, the reason for the request to change the surname and any changes of circumstances since the original registration.

  • The marital status of the parents is important. If they were married, there would have to be strong reasons to change the name if the child was so registered. If they were not married, the mother had control over the registration and hence, if the child was registered, the degree of commitment to the child and the quality of contact will be important considerations.

Furthermore, criminal convictions were considered within this judgment and overall it was held that a criminal conviction is to be accepted as evidence of any underlying facts which are to be relied on. Therefore, except in exceptional circumstances, the family court will proceed on the basis that a criminal conviction is correct.

If you require any further information regarding parental responsibility and/or changing a child’s name, please contact the family team to book an initial appointment.