When someone is convicted of killing their partner, you’d assume they’d lose their parental rights – but sadly, that’s not the case.
At present, from their prison cell, the surviving parent can retain full parental responsibility.
This means the bereaved family must still consult them on decisions regarding the child’s health, education, travel etc., and would need to apply to the court to ask to remove this parental responsibility. A stressful and time-consuming process, at what is already an awful time in their lives.
It doesn’t seem right, does it?
That’s because it isn’t – and that’s why, things are about to change.
At the latest conservative party conference, the loophole was described as an ‘injustice in our family justice system’ and – mercifully – the government committed to introducing ‘Jade’s Law’ by the end of the year. A brand new law, designed to protect families in this unfair and unfortunate situation.
Jade’s Law – an essential change to the family justice system
By January 2024, Jade’s Law will have officially been introduced in the UK.
The new measures will be named after Jade Ward, who was murdered by her former partner in 2021. Her family have campaigned tirelessly to change the law, after her murderer was able to continue to take part in decisions relating to their four children.
Despite receiving a 35-year prison sentence, Russell Marsh – Jade’s killer – has retained full parental responsibility and attempted to control his children from behind bars, asking for photographs, requesting school reports and medical details, and even blocking their wish to travel abroad. Unwanted contact, which has inflicted further trauma on the children and Jade’s parents.
Both legally and morally, a change in this area is long overdue.
The new law will be brought about through a change to the Victim and Prisoners Bill.
Having been sentenced for the murder or manslaughter of the other parent, the convicted person will now automatically have their parental responsibility suspended – at the very least until a judge is able to review the case, and ensure the suspension is in the best interests of the child.
It’s believed this crucial change will safeguard the children involved, protecting them against the manipulation of the jailed parent. Whilst also reducing the burden on the bereaved family, who will no longer need to apply to remove parental responsibility at an already challenging time.
When can you legally stop child contact?
Of course, unamicable breakups and parental disagreements can (and usually do) involve heightened emotions – which often impact child arrangements. And there are plenty of ‘invalid’ reasons to stop child access (e.g. a parent refusing to pay child support or dropping the children off late.)
However, in the UK, child contact is not a legal ‘right’.
Parental responsibility does provide some legal rights and responsibilities, but this doesn’t mean the parent in question automatically has a right to access or see their child. Instead, the law in this area is entirely centred on the child’s welfare and whether access would put their welfare at risk.
As such, there are some valid circumstances in which – legally – it’s possible to stop child contact.
Some of the most common include:
- If the parent has engaged or been convicted of any kind of criminal activity
- Domestic abuse, towards you or anyone else in the presence of the children
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Any other inappropriate behaviour that puts your child at risk
Access in these scenarios could be a potential safety or welfare concern. Therefore, a parent is entitled to apply to the family court for a child contact order.
The primary objective of the court is to safeguard the interests and welfare of the child. They consider the feelings and wishes of the children involved, their age, their physical, emotional and educational needs, parental capabilities and the likelihood of any harm.
If they conclude that no harm is likely to be caused by child contact, the application may be dismissed. But if they believe there is a risk to the child, they will take strict action – granting an order that decides living arrangements and legally preventing any sort of access.
Need advice on parental rights?
Removing parental responsibility is a complex area of the law.
Jade Ward is an extreme case – and for anyone in such a devastating situation, ‘Jade’s Law’ is undoubtedly a much-needed change, which will be of great benefit to the affected children and their bereaved families. But whatever the specific circumstances, if you believe contact or access could be a risk to a child’s safety or welfare, it’s worth seeking legal advice as soon as possible.
Here at St Helens Law, we have a skilled team of family law solicitors who are on hand to help.
Knowledgeable and experienced in family law, we’ve helped hundreds of parents (on both sides of the fence) to achieve the outcome they deserve – or more importantly, the right outcome for the children involved. And we can provide an initial consultation completely free of charge.
Whether you’d like further insight into parental rights, want to find out more about the possibility of removing parental responsibility, or are looking for advice on a potential child court order, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You’re welcome to call us at any time on 01744 742360 or send an email to email@example.com. Alternatively, fill out our online form to request a consultation and a member of the team will respond to your enquiry as soon as possible.