A Special Guardianship Order is an order made by the court which appoints one or more individuals to act as a child’s ‘special guardian’. It is common for this type of order to be made in favour of a grandparent or other extended family members who step in to care for a child who may otherwise have to be cared for outside of the family. For example, in foster care. A Special Guardianship Order therefore provides the child with a legally secure and permanent home whilst maintaining a link to the birth parents through wider family members. It is often considered as an alternative to adoption.
How long does a Special Guardianship Order last?
A Special Guardianship Order will remain in place until the child reaches 18 years of age.
What authority does a Special Guardianship Order give the guardian?
A Special Guardianship Order provides the special guardian with an enhanced level of parental responsibility. This enables the special guardian, in most cases, to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of anyone else who has parental responsibility. In other words, if a conflict arises between the special guardian and child’s parent, the special guardian’s opinion will take precedence. A special guardian cannot however unilaterally change the child’s surname, nor can they remove the child from the UK for more than three months.
Who can apply for a Special Guardianship Order?
Not everyone is entitled to apply for a Special Guardianship Order. Individuals who can apply include the following:
- A relative who the child has lived with for one year prior to making the application;
- An individual who has the consent of everyone with parental responsibility for the child;
- Any individual who has had a Child Arrangements Order made in their favour;
- A guardian of the child;
- An individual with whom the child has lived with for three out of the past five years and within the last three months;
- A local authority foster parent who the child has lived with for at least one year prior to making the application;
- An individual with the consent of the local authority if the child is in care;
- Anyone who has obtained permission from the court.
What happens during the application process?
When an individual or a couple, whether married or unmarried, wish to apply for a Special Guardianship Order they must first provide the local authority with three months’ notice of their intended application. The local authority then has to prepare a report considering the application and setting out their recommendations. This is then sent to the court who ultimately must decide whether the proposed Special Guardianship Order is in the child’s best interests.
Once a Special Guardianship Order is made the local authority must consider the provision of support services including advice and financial support. The Special Guardianship Allowance is discretionary and will involve the local authority carrying out a means-tested assessment.
For more information on special guardianship orders or how to make an application, please contact our Family Law team on 0161 475 7676.