Possible automatic removal of parental rights from parents convicted for sexual offences.

Following a recent case of a convicted paedophile who retained parental rights of his child, Harriet Harman presses for a change to current legislation. Talking to Radio 4’s Today programme she said, “It’s a glaring anomaly that while the law protects other people’s children from a sex offender, it doesn’t protect his own”.

What rights do parents have in respect of their child(ren)?

In law, most parents have “parental responsibility”. They hold a special legal status that grants them the right to be involved in their child’s life and responsibilities. Those with parental responsibility can make decisions about a child’s property and welfare decisions on their behalf, including, but not limited to, decisions about their religion, accommodation, education, and medical treatment. They can also manage their money.

Parents who share parental responsibility can make decisions without consulting others, such as the day-to-day activities that a child does. Whereas other decisions must be made in consultation and agreement with all those with parental responsibility, such as which school a child should attend, vaccinations, etc. If parents cannot agree on such decisions, they can make an application to the Court. This should always be the last resort.

In cases where a party is a convicted sex offender even if they are barred from having contact with any child under the age of 18, they may still have a right to agree on which school their child should attend and be consulted and notified before the child is taken abroad and consulted in relation to medical treatments. This is one of the anomalies that the new legislation proposes to address.

Who has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility in respect of her child.

If parents are married or in a civil partnership at the time of the child’s birth, then both parents automatically have parental responsibility.

If the parents are not married or in a civil partnership at the time of the birth, then only the mother has parental responsibility.

A father can, however, acquire parental responsibility by:

  1. Being registered on the child’s birth certificate.
  2. Marrying the mother.
  3. Entering into a parental responsibility agreement.
  4. Obtaining a Court Order giving him parental responsibility.
  5. Being named as a person with whom a child lives under a Child Arrangements Order.
  6. Becoming the child’s guardian.
  7. Adopting the child.

If a child is born by fertility treatment (on or after 6 April 2009) to two female parents, then the woman carrying the child is treated as “the mother” and automatically acquires parental responsibility. A second female parent is treated in a similar way to a father.

When does parental responsibility end?

It automatically ends:

  1. When a child reaches the age of 18.
  2. On the making of an Adoption Order.
  3. On cessation of any Order specifying who a child is to live or spend time with if that order provided the parental responsibility.
  4. On the making of a parental order under a surrogacy arrangement.

Alternatively, in rare and exceptional circumstances, a Court can end parental responsibility by way of a Court Order.

Under the new legislation, those convicted of serious sexual offences will automatically lose parental responsibility for any child.

If you have any questions concerning matters raised, then please contact a member of the  Geldards Family Law Team. 

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