A Special Guardianship Order (often known as an SGO) is a legal order where the court appoints a carer – usually a relative – as the ‘Special Guardian’ of a child until they turn 18. The Special Guardian then shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents and can make nearly all the major decisions about the child without having to consult them.
This process can be emotive and intricate, and it is essential that you take professional legal advice from family law solicitors who are experienced in this area and can skillfully represent you with the best interest of the child at heart.
Who is eligible to apply for an SGO?
If you are over the age of 18, you can apply for a Special Guardianship Order if:
- You are related to the child and they have either lived with you for at least one year immediately prior to the application, or the court has granted permission for you to apply for the order.
- The child has been in your foster care for at least a year immediately preceding the application.
- The child has lived with you for at least three of the previous five years.
- You have permission from the local authority if the child is in their care.
- You have permission from the court.
Joint applications can also be made for special guardianship and there is no requirement for those applying to be married.
How do I apply or commence the process of being an SGO?
Anyone wishing to apply for a Special Guardianship Order must inform the local authority of their intention three months ahead of submission. They must then make an application to the family court.
The Children’s Services department will then contact you to assess your suitability and will prepare a report for the court outlining their recommendations.
What support is available to SGOs?
If the child concerned is in local authority care when the Special Guardianship Order is granted, an assessment will automatically be carried out to determine if financial or practical support is required. If the child is not a looked after child, an assessment for support can still be requested by the special guardians or the child themselves for:
- Financial assistance
- Counselling and emotional support
- Respite care
- Access to support groups
- Training and advice to help the Special Guardian meet the needs of the child
Eligibility for financial support is means tested but financial assistance to cover out-of-pocket expenses is available to all. Such expenses might include facilitating contact visits with the child’s family or to cover childcare so that the Special Guardian can have a break.
Access to other support will be determined by considering the needs of both the Special Guardian and the child.
Alternatives to an SGO?
In the situation where a child is considered to be at risk of harm if they remain in the family home, there are several alternatives to a Special Guardianship Order:
Unlike a Special Guardian, a foster carer does not have parental responsibility for a child and so is unable to make key decisions about the child’s care and upbringing. Even if the placement is long-term, foster care does not always afford the child the sense of security and belonging that can be gained through a Special Guardianship Order.
Child Arrangement Order
A Child Arrangement Order is granted by the court, detailing where the child should live in the interests of their safety and well-being. The person into whose care they are charged will also have parental responsibility for the child, along with the child’s parents.
Adoption severs all connections between the child and their birth parents, placing them permanently with another family. Birth parents lose all parental responsibility once the court order has been issued and links with the wider biological family are also lost in the majority of cases.
Can an SGO be removed or varied?
Although a Special Guardianship Order is usually in place until a child is 18, if there has been a significant change in circumstances the order can be changed in one of two ways:
- The terms of the order can be altered
- The order can be removed completely and the child returned to their parents
Anyone wishing to end a Special Guardianship Order must apply to the court, where the evidence will then be examined to determine if the change in circumstances is significant enough to vary the original order. The court will also take into consideration the likely impact of their decision on the child and how disruptive another change in living arrangements would be for them.
We are able to offer expert advice and guidance on the above process as well as cost guidance that varies depending on the circumstances of each case.
If you or a member of your family need advice or information about Special Guardianship Orders, contact the family law team at Lester Aldridge who will offer the guidance you need on 01202 786161 or email online.enquiries@LA-law.com.