Parental Responsibility as Therapy

05 February 2010

HELEN REECE, Department of Law, London School of Economics, London

In Re S [1995] 2 FLR 648, Ward LJ crafted an entirely new reason for granting an unmarried father parental responsibility, a reason never given in any previous case. This was to confer upon the father a stamp of approval:

'I have heard, up and down the land, psychiatrists tell me how important it is that children grow up with good self-esteem and how much they need to have a favourable positive image of the absent parent. It seems to me important, therefore, wherever possible, to ensure that the law confers upon a committed father that stamp of approval, lest the child grow up with some belief that he is in some way disqualified from fulfilling his role and that the reason for the disqualification is something inherent which will be inherited by the child, making her struggle to find her own identity all the more fraught' (at p 647).

I have previously argued that Re S marked a turning point in the reasons given by judges for granting unmarried fathers parental responsibility: in cases prior to Re S, the main reason for granting an unmarried father parental responsibility was to give him decision-making power; in cases since Re S, the reasons are less to do with decision-making and more to do with feelings and emotions (Reece, 'The Degradation of Parental Responsibility' in Probert et al (eds), Responsible Parents and Parental Responsibility (Hart Publications, 2009)). In this article, I suggest that the current approach in the case law both illustrates and reflects a cultural turn towards the therapeutic.

To read the rest of this article, see December [2009] Family Law journal.

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