What is a special guardianship order?
A Special Guardianship Order is an order of the Court making one or more individuals the special guardian of your child and is considered as an alternative way to provide your child with permanence when adoption and a Child Arrangements Order is not appropriate. A Special Guardianship Order will remain in place until your child reaches the age of 18, unless the order is varied by the Court before. Generally Special Guardianship Orders are appropriate when a family member or a family friend takes responsibility for caring for the child. The reason for this is largely to do with the issue of parental responsibility.
What is the effect of a Special Guardianship Order?
If a Special Guardianship Order is made, the Special Guardian is granted parental responsibility of the child and they can exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of all others who have parental responsibility in respect of the child. There are exceptions to this rule, namely the Special Guardian cannot change the child’s surname or remove them from the UK for more than 3 months without written consent from every person who holds parental responsibility or permission of the Court.
The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.
Adoption or Special Guardianship
When a child is adopted the parents lose their parental responsibility and generally the child’s links with their parents and external family are lost, or at least limited. It is for this reason that adoption is not always suitable. When a Child Arrangements Order is made specifying that the child shall live with a certain individual (for example a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle), that person acquires parental responsibility (if they did not already have it), but the parental responsibility granted is considered equal to the parental responsibility held by the parents. This is not always appropriate when there are concerns regarding the parents’ care of the child or they are absent. Therefore, Special Guardianship Orders are a good alternative to adoption and Child Arrangements Orders, as it does not extinguish the parents’ parental responsibility, but it does confer more power on the Special Guardian to the child’s parents/any other individual who holds parental responsibility.
Special guardianship order financial support
The other benefit of a Special Guardianship Order is that the Local Authority are under an obligation to provide the Special Guardian with support, which can include financial support, information and advice.
Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order?
The Special Guardian must be over 18 and cannot be the parent of the child. The following individuals can apply for a Special Guardianship Order:
- Any guardian of the child;
- A person in whose favour a Child Arrangements Order has been made specifying that the child should live with them;
- A local authority foster parent, if the child has lived with them for at least one year immediately prior to the application;
- A relative, if the child has lived with them for at least one year immediately prior to the application;
- Any person if the child has lived with them for at least 3 years. The period of three years does not have to be continuous but must not have begun more than five years before, or ended more than three months before the application is made;
- Any person who has the consent of the Local Authority, if the child is in the care of the local authority;
- Any person who has the consent of all those who have parental responsibility in respect of the child; or
- A person who has permission from the Court.
How to apply for a special guardianship order
You must give the Local Authority at least 3 months’ notice of your intention to apply for a Special Guardianship Order. The Local Authority must then assess you and provide a report for the Court.
Rayden Solicitors are family law specialists who can assist in relation to all aspects of family law. If you require legal advice about any of the issues raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us.