The court must consider the ‘welfare checklist’. It must consider:-
• the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child in light of his age and understanding;
• the physical, emotional and educational needs;
• the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
• his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
• any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
• how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, of meeting his needs;
• the range of powers available to the court under the Children Act.
The court must also consider:-
• whether the father has a genuine child-centred motive for wanting it;
• whether the father has shown a commitment to the child (for example, by keeping up contact and a relationship with the child);
• whether there is a significant relationship between the father and the child.
Some facts are usually more important than others when looking at whether a father should have parental responsibility.
For example, a father who does not pay any money towards the child’s maintenance will not necessarily be refused parental responsibility just because of that. He may not be able to pay, because he is on income support. The parents may be in the process of a divorce and the money side of things has not been sorted out. Sometimes a mother has refused to accept any money from the father. Very often parents get locked in a vicious circle – one parent will not pay, the other parent will not allow contact. The courts try to ensure that money and children are kept separate.
The fact that a father has not had contact for a long time may go against him. However, he might be able to show the court that he was asking the mother to have contact and she was refusing. He may not have known that he had a child at all. He may have been mentally ill and not in a position to ask for contact. It will go against him if he cannot show a good reason to the court. But PROs have still been made even when the father is not having any contact at all.
A father who has been violent to the mother may be on thin ice, especially if the child knew about it. All will depend on his attitude about his behaviour. A father who can show that he is sorry for his behaviour and has made some efforts to change will be in a stronger position. For example, he might have been violent partly because he was taking drugs or drinking heavily. If he has sorted himself out, the court may accept that he is now a reformed character. A father who cannot be trusted to behave in a reasonable way when dealing with a mother is not likely to get parental responsibility.
A father who has been violent to a child, or has sexually abused a child is not very likely to get parental responsibility.
The reality is that fathers who apply for parental responsibility will normally get it, unless they have done something really outrageous.