Parental Responsibility, can it be revoked?

In training, the question has arisen from time to time as to whether a father who has been granted parental responsibility for a child and therefore has the legal right to make decisions for the child in conjunction with others who also have PR, can that right taken away?

S.3(1) Children Act defines parental responsibility as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property. There is not precise list of matters that a parent ith PR has the right to do in respect of the child. A person with PR is permitted to make important decisions and these can include the legal right to:

  • To name the child
  • To decide where the child is to live
  • To decide which school the child is to attend
  • To consent to the child’s medical treatment
  • To consent to the child’s adoption

A mother who gives birth to a child automatically has PR once the child is born. The father does not have automatic PR unless he is married to the mother.

S.4 Children Act 1989 states that a father can acquire Pr in the following ways:

(1)Where a child’s father and mother were not married to, or civil partners of, each other at the time of the birth of the child , the father shall acquire parental responsibility for the child if—

(a)he becomes registered on the child’s birth certificate as the child’s father

(b)he and the child’s mother enter into a parental responsibility agreement providing for him to have parental responsibility for the child; or

(c)the court, on his application, orders that he shall have parental responsibility for the child

PR can end in a number of ways:

  • When the child reaches age of 18
  • If the father who has PR dies or
  • By court order, terminating the father’s PR

The court was faced with the decision of whether a father named on the birth certificate should have his PR terminated in the case of Re A [2023] EWHC 3534 (Fam), (Judgement published May 2024)

Generally, the court is reluctant to terminate a father’s PR, acquiring this legal right by having his name registered on the child’s birth certificate. This was clearly expressed in the case of Re P (Terminating Parental Responsibility) [1995] 1 FLR 1048, Singer J held as follows at p.1052:

“I start from the proposition that parental responsibility – both wanting to have it and its exercise – is a laudable desire which is to be encouraged rather than rebuffed. So that I think one can postulate as a first principle that parental responsibility once obtained should not be terminated in the case of a non-marital father on less than solid grounds, with a presumption for continuance rather than for termination.

The ability of a mother to make such an application therefore should not be allowed to become a weapon in the hands of the dissatisfied mother of the non-marital child: it should be used by the court as an appropriate step in the regulation of the child’s life where the circumstances really do warrant it and not otherwise.”

This was an application by the mother to terminate the father’s PR.

The child was born in 2022 and was under 18 months old at the time of the judgement. The judge found that the child habitually resided in England and Wales and he did have jurisdiction to make a decision in relation to the child. The judge also found that:

  • The father has a record of serious criminal convictions.
  • The mother had experienced difficulties with the father.
  • The father has demonstrated a lack of interest in the child’s live.
  • The mother had experienced considerable distress due to the father’s behaviour of past abuse.
  • The mother required protection by not having to approach the father in the future to seek his consent on various decisions concerning the child.

The judge took the view that revoking the father’s PR is the most sensible and beneficial course of action as overall it was not in the child’s best interest.

The law governing the removal of PR is complex, and each case will be considered based on its own facts. The case law is clear that parental responsibility can be removed where it is necessary to further the child’s best interests, having had regard to the child’s welfare.

As social care professionals, it is important to be clear when working with parents or carers about who has PR and, therefore, the legal rights to make decisions on behalf of the child. The following are two questions that should be considered from the outset.

  1. Does the parent or carer has PR? and
  2. How has the parent or carer acquired it? Is it as a result marriage, court order or agreement and can they provide a copy of the relevant document to confirm this.

How we can help

We are specialists in providing legal and social care training. If you require bespoke and practical skilled training on any legal or social care matters, please contact us for a no-obligation discussion of your training needs.


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The contents of this guide are for information and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice

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