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What is a special guardianship order?

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A special guardianship order is a legal order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s ‘special guardian’ until they turn 18. As determined in The Children Act 1989, a special guardian will take on parental responsibility for a child when they are unable to continue living with their parents for various reasons.

There are many different options when it comes to care arrangements for children, so it is important to know what they are, the rights and responsibilities involved, and when a special guardianship order should be used.

When to apply for a special guardianship order

There may come a time when there is a crisis in the family home and parents are unable to care for their children during this period. In these circumstances it becomes necessary for the children to be looked after by someone else temporarily. If this is for a very short period of time then usually just staying with friends or family is sufficient, but if the disruption is significant, then a more long-term solution is needed.

A special guardianship order is ideal in situations when a child needs some certainty about where they will be living and with whom, but still keep ties to their birth parents. It is a less drastic arrangement than adoption, which is a permanent lifelong arrangement which severs all ties to the child’s birth parents, but it provides more stability and permanence than a Residence or Child Arrangement Order which does not offer as much parental responsibility and can be more easily revoked.

Who can apply for a special guardianship order?

In order to apply for a special guardianship order, you must be at least 18 years of age and not a parent of the child. The court may grant a special guardianship order to the following people:

  • Any guardian of the child
  • Any individual who has a Residence Order in force with respect to the child
  • A local authority foster parent who the child has lived with for at least 1 year immediately preceding the application

Once in force, the special guardianship order gives parental responsibility to the guardian, which is shared with the birth parents of the child. However, a special guardian is entitled to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility (apart from another special guardian), when making decisions about the child’s welfare.

Although a special guardian has the authority of parental responsibility, the order can be changed or discharged by any of the following people:

  • A special guardian
  • Any parent, step-parent or guardian of the child (with the court’s permission)
  • Any individual with a Residence Order in place for the child
  • Any individual who has previously had parental responsibility for the child
  • The child themselves (with the court’s permission)
  • A local authority with a care order in force with respect to the child before the special guardianship order

Where court permission is needed, they will only grant leave if the circumstances of significantly changed since the special guardianship order was originally made.

How to apply for a special guardianship order?

Any individual who wants to apply for a special guardianship order and meets the necessary requirements must give three months’ notice in writing to their local authority, expressing their intention to apply.

Once the local authority receives this, they will investigate the suitability of the applicants and prepare a report which will be sent to the court. Without this report, the court will not make a special guardianship order.

The court will also consider varying or discharging any other existing order with respect to the child, such as a contact order or a residence order and may also consider allowing the child to be known by a new surname or give permission for the child to be taken out of the UK for longer than three months.

Get expert child care advice

Whether you are considering applying for a Special Guardianship Order or any other type of order for a child, it is a big life decision. Therefore, it is important to get all the right information and explore all of your options before deciding to apply.

At Crisp & Co, our expert child law solicitors can give you the best advice and ensure that you find the best solution for yours and your children’s needs.

Call us today on 020 8017 8962 or fill in our enquiry form at the bottom of this page.