RE M (PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES ORDER)

Becoming a father and appreciating the weight of parental responsibility are two distinctly separate issues, and the courts are slow to grant such rights to unmarried fathers when the nature of their relationship to the child(ren) proves routinely disruptive and damaging to the sanctity of ‘family’, whether intact or fractured.

On this occasion, the appellant was father to a son aged eleven, who at the time of his birth, was declared fatherless on grounds that while the appellant’s name was visible on the birth certificate, it was at a time before legislative changes granted parental rights to unmarried or estranged fathers under section 111 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

When the parents separated after seven years together, the appellant applied for a contact order, despite protestations that he had exhausted himself as a parent, and that he no longer wished to stay in his son’s life.

This was followed by his unexpected removal of their son from school, before disappearing for a number of days without any communication to both the mother, or the local police.

After returning with his son, the appellant further refused welfare visits, before releasing him back into his school unharmed.

In response, the respondent mother applied for a residence order, while declaring that the appellant should be subjected to no contact, and a prohibited steps order.

During the hearing, the father agreed to supervised contact, and things remained that way for the next two years, until the appellant applied for both parental responsibility and for direct contact with their son.

During this hearing, the appellant requested to remove his application, before departing the court unexpectedly; at which point, the judge awarded residency to the respondent, before issuing a two-year disposal order under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, thereby preventing any further orders of that kind from the appellant.

Despite total opposition from the respondent and their son, the appellant argued before the Court of Appeal that on a number of points, the judge had either overlooked or under appreciated, the status rights afforded him; and that his commitment to his relationship with his son was beyond reproach.

Contrastingly, the attending doctor’s report told quite a different story, when outlining that:

“It appears that when faced with rejection [father] will engage in varying behaviours, including cajoling, begging and threatening in order to manipulate others into meeting his needs and that when others do not meet his expectations he may become increasingly controlling, including expressing anger to manipulate them, transgressing boundaries in an effort to resume control of situations … the prognosis for significant behaviour change is poor due to excessive denial … it is possible that [father] will attempt to use his relationship with his son in an attempt to manipulate or denigrate [mother].”

This evidence ran counter to the nature of the appellants’ appeal, and while fully appreciative of the arguments adopted, careful examination of the previous judgment revealed that far from neglecting to consider the needs of the appellant, the court had been explicit in its reasoning.

And, that when issuing the section 91(14) order, welfare, existing authority and proportion of risk had all been calculated, so as to justify both the dismissal of the claim for parental responsibility and the appeal itself, while the court reminded the parties that:

“[W]here a father has shown commitment to a child, has a good relationship with the child and has sound and genuine reasons for wanting parental responsibility, an order granting him that status will not usually be refused simply because, through hostility to the child’s mother or an excess of zeal, he may seek to exercise parental responsibility inappropriately.”