A v D: Traversing the threshold to terminate parental responsibility

Mr Justice Roderic Wood
A brief summary of A v D (Parental Responsibility) [2013] EWHC 2963 (Fam).

It is not often that a father's parental responsibility is revoked, but that is what happened in A v D.

The facts were that the parents were not married. There is one child of the relationship, A, who was born on the 13th of January 2009, although both parents have other children. The father acquired parental responsibility for A when the mother registered him as the father on A's birth certificate.

According to the mother, the parents' relationship swiftly deteriorated, with the father becoming increasingly controlling and, at times, violent. In 2009 the father was convicted of assaulting the mother and in December 2011 he subjected the mother to a "prolonged and vicious" assault, including stabbing and strangling her. He also threatened to kill her and to have the house shot at with the children in it if she went to the police. Following the assault the mother fled her home and whilst she was away it was burgled and a police car that was placed outside it for the protection of the family was set on fire. On the 28th of December 2011 the father was arrested and in June 2012 he was sentenced to two years' immediate imprisonment for causing grievous bodily harm with intent and three years' imprisonment for false imprisonment of the mother. He also had a string of previous convictions for various offences, including ten offences against the person.

Needless to say, the mother's heath was affected by the father's behaviour. Amongst other things, she has been diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The child had also been affected, suffering from nightmares, displaying highly distressed behaviour and self-harming. Above all, said Mr Justice Roderic Wood hearing the case, he had a need for continuity and stability.

The mother and child are now living at a confidential address. However, she had been advised by the police that when the father is released from prison she would face a real risk to her life and limb if he found her. Accordingly, in an attempt to protect herself and the child and make sure they were not traceable, the mother applied for a residence order, an order permitting her to change the child's name and an order revoking the father's parental responsibility.

The father did not oppose the applications. An email and a fax that he sent to the court were regarded as not being a full consent. Both Cafcass and the court attempted to persuade him to attend court to give his views, but he declined.

As to the law on termination of parental responsibility, Mr Justice Wood followed the authority of Mr Justice Baker in CW v SG [2013] EWHC 854 (Fam), namely that before such an order was made he should be satisfied:
1. That if the father did not have parental responsibility it is inconceivable it would now be granted to him; and
2. That there is no element of the bundle of responsibilities that make up parental responsibility which this father could, in present or foreseeable circumstances, exercise in a way which would be beneficial for the child.
Mr Justice Wood was so satisfied. In fact, he said that:
"The mother has effortlessly traversed the high threshold required to lead me to terminate the father's parental responsibility, and has done so fulfilling the necessary burden of proof and standard of proof."
He went on:
"To leave the father as a joint holder of parental responsibility would lead to the mother having perforce to have dealings with the father which would, on any objective view of the evidence, be intolerable to her, and which would more probably than not lead to a profound instability for her, with the inevitable consequences for the deterioration in the arrangements for the children as she sought to combat the seriously undermining effects upon her of such an intrusion."
As to the name change:
"Anything proportionate which reduces the chance of revealing to the father A's and thus her whereabouts is to be avoided. A change of name from his currently unusual ones will help achieve that end..."
Lastly, as to residence, Mr Justice Wood stated that strictly an order was not necessary, but he felt that it would be appropriate because it recognised the reality of the care arrangements and would give the mother a sense of security as to the court's approval of her arrangements.