Special Guardian Orders

The Courts can, under the Children Act 1989, grant a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) to couples or an individual, which confers on them shared Parental Responsibility with the child’s birth parents.

Special Guardianship Orders are often used if a child is not able to live with their birth parents perhaps because of illness or family breakdown but the courts consider that it would be in the child’s best interest to appoint a Special Guardian(s) to ensure the child has a secure upbringing.

An SGO is different from adoption because legally the relationship between a child and their birth parents is ongoing – in adoption, the legal relationship between a child and their birth parents ends once the child is adopted. Relatives of a child can apply to be their Special Guardian which may involve grandparents, an uncle or aunt, or a godparent or a close family friend applying to the court for a Special Guardianship Order.

There are legal requirements which must be met before an individual or couple can apply for an SGO, including:

  • A minimum age requirement of 18
  • Individuals and couples must already be a guardian to the child
  • A Child Arrangement Order specifying residence must be in place
  • The child must have lived with a couple or individual for three out of the last five years – or for one year in the case of local authority foster parents
  • The local authority must consent to the SGO application for children in care.

If parents or those with Parental Responsibility give their permission, then an SGO can also be applied for however, the law does not allow a parent (for example, a non-resident parent) to become a child’s Special Guardian.

The Child Welfare Checklist

The local authority will provide a report on the suitability of the applicant for an SGO for the family court to consider. Family courts always give the welfare of a child priority in any decision regarding childcare, including SGOs.

Under the Children Act 1989, a Child Welfare Checklist will also inform the court’s decision – and the court will consider the child’s wishes, taking into account their age and understanding of what is happening. The Child Welfare Checklist will also take into account the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs – and whether the applicant for Special Guardianship can meet those needs. The court will also consider any abuse the child has suffered as well as how any change in circumstances might affect the child.

Applying for a Special Guardianship Order can require expert legal help to prepare the application and make sure that a local authority and family court have all the relevant details needed to assess an application to become a child’s Special Guardian. Parents and individuals applying for an SGO must also consider whether being a child’s Special Guardian would suit their own needs particularly if there is no family relationship with the child, whose birth parents would still share Parental Responsibility with the Special Guardian.

SGOs last until the child is 18 – and Signature Law LLP can advise couples and individuals who are considering applying for a Special Guardianship Order on preparing the application, as well as advising on their legal obligations as a Special Guardian.