Special Guardianship

Special guardianship orders (SGOs) are private law orders. They are sometimes made in situations where a child lives with someone other than his or her parents. They are more significant than a residence order but are not as final or permanent as an adoption order.

The main features of a SGO are these:

  • they give the child’s carer clear responsibility for all aspects of caring for the child or young person, and for making the decisions concerning their upbringing;
  • they provide a firm foundation on which to build a lifelong permanent relationship between the carer and the child;
  • they preserve the legal link between the child and his or her birth family, and
  • they allow access to a full range of support services including in some cases financial support.

SGOs & parental responsibility

If a SGO is made, it gives the Special Guardian PR for the child. It in fact gives the Special Guardian an enhanced form of PR. Where parents share PR, neither has an overriding say about issues relating to the child’s upbringing. So, if they are unable to agree on choice of school, an overseas trip, or similar matters, the court would have to become involved to referee.

However, the enhanced PR that a Special Guardian has means that he or she is entitled to exercise PR to the exclusion of others. The Special Guardian may override decisions the child’s parent or parents wish to make of a PR nature.

This enhanced PR is not without limits, however: a Special Guardian needs the written consent of everybody else with PR (or the court’s permission) to:

  • change the child’s surname, or
  • remove him or her from the UK for more than three months.

Becoming a special guardian

A Special Guardian must be aged eighteen or older.

It is not possible for a parent to become Special Guardian to his or her own child.

Some individuals will be entitled to apply as of right for a SGO – for example, those in whose favour a residence order about the same child has been made. Anybody else who wishes to apply for a SGO will need the court’s permission.

Also, whilst a SGO is a private law application, it still involves the local authority responsible for the area where the child lives. A person who intends to apply for a SGO must give the relevant local authority notice first (the notice period is at least three months).

The local authority’s role

The relevant local authority is required to investigate and prepare a report to the court dealing with a number of matters relevant to the SGO application.

These include:

  • the suitability of the proposed Special Guardian;
  • the child’s medical background;
  • the child’s and his or her parents’ wishes and feelings about the application;
  • the implications of making a SGO for the child, family and the proposed Special Guardian;
  • other orders the court might make instead of a SGO – adoption, residence, and so on – and an assessment of whether the child’s welfare requires a SGO to be made instead of one of those.

The report must conclude with a recommendation as to whether or not the SGO sought should be made.

Support services

Every local authority is required to provide Special Guardianship support services within its area. These services include counselling, advice and information in relation to special guardianship.

Local authorities must provide the following specific help in special guardianship situations:

  • mediation services to help make arrangements for contact between the child and his or her parents (and other family members);
  • services that address any therapeutic needs the child has;
  • training for a SGO to help meet any special needs the child has;
  • respite care.

Last, Special Guardians may be entitled to financial support from the local authority, depending on their circumstances.

How can we help?

  • Advise generally about Special Guardianship and whether it is suitable for your situation;
  • Represent parents, other adults (and, in suitable cases, children) in proceedings for a Special Guardianship order;
  • Help resolve disputes that arise between parents and Special Guardians about the exercise of PR;
  • Liaise on your behalf with the Local Authority, either in relation to the Special Guardianship application, or support services for Special Guardians.

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