What is special guardianship, and is it relevant to me?

The Family Court has a range of orders available to it when deciding what arrangements should be made for a child. Most of these orders are fairly self-explanatory, but there is one in particular that gives rise to considerable confusion: the special guardianship order.

So what exactly is a special guardianship order, and what does it do?

Special guardianship orders are for situations when it is not possible or appropriate for the child to reside with its parents, or one of them. They are therefore made in favour of other relatives, or people who are not related to the child at all.

In such situations the court has a number of options: for example, it could make an adoption order, or a child arrangements order, regulating arrangements relating to with whom the child should live.

But sometimes something else is appropriate. An adoption order may be too final, shutting the parents out of the child’s life. And a child arrangements order may not give the person with whom the child is living sufficient ‘independence’ from the parents, who would still have a say in all decisions relating to the child.

Note the reference to with whom the child is living. Special guardianship orders are often made in favour of someone with whom the child is already living, such as a relative or foster carer. They can also be made in favour of others, including any guardian of the child, anyone who has the consent of all those with parental responsibility for the child, and anyone who has been given permission by the court to apply for a special guardianship order.

So what is the effect of a special guardianship order?

Firstly, the child will live permanently with the special guardian, although they will normally retain a relationship with their birth family, including having regular contact with their parents.

Secondly, the special guardian will have parental responsibility for the child. The child’s parents will continue to have parental responsibility, but it will be limited, meaning that the special guardian will be able to take many decisions relating to the child, without needing the approval of the parents (unlike the situation where a child arrangements order is made).

Thirdly, the special guardian will have an additional ‘protection’ in that whereas if a child arrangements order were made then the child’s parents could apply as of right to vary or discharge that order, when a special guardianship order is made the parent must first obtain the leave of the court before making any such application.

In short, an order gives the special guardian a status in relation to the child that is greater than a child arrangements order, without severing the child’s links to the parents, as an adoption order would do.

Special guardianship orders usually last until the child is 18 years old.

Obviously, this is just a very brief overview of the law on special guardianship. If you are considering applying for a special guardianship order then you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with such an expert – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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