Happy Valley

Published on 2 Mar 2023

After a painful seven year wait, the third season of “Happy Valley” was finally released in January this year. "Happy Valley" is a British crime drama television series. The show is set in the Calder Valley region of West Yorkshire and focuses on Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant in the valley who investigates crimes while grappling with personal issues, including the death of her daughter, Becky, her relationship with her grandson, Ryan, and the release of Ryan’s father, Tommy, from prison. The series has been praised for its strong character development and well-written scripts, and has received numerous awards and nominations.

Happy Valley explores various themes relating to complex family dynamics. From a family lawyer’s perspective, one pertinent issue that arises is that of Parental Responsibility.

Definition of Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility (PR) is defined as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which a parent legally has in relation to a child. Each person who has PR for a child can generally exercise it on their own in relation to day to day decisions about the child. However, there are certain decisions, such as choosing a school for the child, that require the agreement of all those with PR.

A child’s mother automatically has PR for them and fathers who are married to the mother when the child is born automatically have PR. A child’s father who is not married to the mother can obtain PR by being named on the child’s birth certificate.

PR can also be obtained by one of the following methods:

  • A PR agreement
  • A PR order from the court
  • Appointing a guardian
  • A live with child arrangements order
  • A special guardianship order
  • Adoption

Tommy’s Parental Responsibility

Becky will have automatically had PR for Ryan as his biological mother. Tommy on the other hand will not have automatically PR for Ryan, as he was not married to Becky when Ryan was born. We do not know if Tommy was named on Ryan’s birth certificate, but presumably Becky would have chosen not to do this as Tommy sexually assaulted her and she did not tell him that she was pregnant with his child. It is also therefore very unlikely that Becky would have agreed to enter into a PR agreement with Tommy.

Tommy could apply for a parental responsibility order as Ryan’s biological father if Becky refused to enter into an agreement with him. The court would take into account Tommy’s commitment to Ryan and his intention in seeking the order. The fact that Tommy has been absent for much of Ryan’s life would not automatically mean that no order would be granted, especially as he did not initially know he was Ryan’s father. However, if it is clear that his main motivation in applying for PR is to get back at Catherine, the court would be unlikely to grant him PR.

If Tommy did have PR the only way that this could be removed is by a court order. Case law sets out that the court should only remove PR in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. For example, in the case of Re C (Care: Consultation with Parents Not in Child’s Best Interests) [2005], the court terminated a father’s PR where he was serving an 11 year term of imprisonment for offences against the child. It is very rare for the court to remove a parent’s PR which is reflective of the court’s view that the involvement of both parents in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare.

We see throughout “Happy Valley” that Tommy clearly poses a risk to Ryan. After finding out that Ryan is his child, Tommy starts following him and eventually in the finale of season one he tries to set fire to both of them whilst they are on a boat. This raises significant safeguarding and welfare issues, and it seems clear that Tommy is causing Ryan significant emotional and psychological, and potentially physical, harm. However, it is unlikely that even in this situation the court would order the removal of his PR given that there is such a high threshold.

Catherine’s Parental Responsibility

We do not know if Catherine has PR for Ryan. It is not unusual for grandparents to find themselves in a similar situation to Catherine where they are the primary carers for their grandchildren. Catherine clearly takes her responsibilities of caring for Ryan very seriously and is willing to make sacrifices for his wellbeing, unlike Tommy. Catherine may have no formal arrangement in place in which case she would not have PR. However, this is generally not advisable, especially if there is a difficult parent involved such as Tommy. It is important to have the certainty of a court order.

If Becky appointed Catherine to be Ryan’s guardian in her will or if the court had made an order to that effect, Catherine will have automatically obtained PR for Ryan when Becky died.

If Catherine does not have PR, she could obtain it in one of the following ways:

Catherine could apply for a live with child arrangements order (CAO) which is a court order setting out that Ryan shall live with her and gives her PR. Child arrangements orders are one of the most commonly used orders for grandparents/parents who cannot agree about contact and living arrangements. However, the disadvantage of a CAO is that it would not actually limit Tommy’s ability to exercise his PR, it would just set out that Ryan would have to live with Catherine.

Catherine could apply for a special guardianship order. This would give Catherine enhanced PR as she would be able to overrule Tommy’s PR, if necessary, which would provide her with greater security. Special guardianship orders require the support of the local authority and are generally more appropriate when the child in question is still young.

The final option for Catherine is adoption. Catherine could see this as ideal, as Tommy’s PR would be terminated and Catherine would have certainty that she is Ryan’s legal parent. However, generally the court is of the view that if less extreme measures, such as a special guardianship order, will suffice, then adoption is not necessary. If Tommy has PR and he objects to the adoption this would make adoption even more unlikely.

If you have any questions about parental responsibility, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the family team.

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