What is a Special Guardianship Order

Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) were introduced by s115 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. They were introduced in order to bridge a gap between Child Arrangement Orders and Adoption Orders in cases when neither of these were not considered appropriate.

A SGO is an order made by the Family Court, that places a child or young person to live with someone, either another family member or family friend – other than their parent(s), permanently. The person that the child is permanently placed with is called their ‘Special Guardian’.

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SGOs will give the Special Guardian parental responsibility for the child until that child reaches the age of 18 years old. Unlike adoption, a SGO will not remove the birth parents’ parental responsibility. However, it will enable the Special Guardian to make day to day decisions, important decisions concerning the long-term care and upbringing of the child, such as deciding which school the child attends, without having to consult the birth parents. In the event that a conflict arises between the Special Guardians and the birth parents regarding a decision about the child, the Special Guardian’s opinion will take precedence as their parental responsibility is greater than the birth parents’ parental responsibility.

As the parents retain parental responsibility there may be times when the birth parents would need to be consulted; for example, a Special Guardian cannot change a child’s surname or take the child to live abroad for more than three months without the birth parents agreeing or obtaining leave of the Family Court. In respect of very serious medical decisions or adoption, the birth parents’ consent will also be required.

Support may be available for Special Guardians, children and birth parents in the form of financial support and other services.

Discharging SGOs

SGOs usually last until the child is 18 years of age however, if either of the parents wish to apply to discharge the SGO before this time, they would first need the permission of the Family Court. The parents would need to show that there has been a change in their circumstances since the SGO was made that would justify the court looking at the case again.

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The court will also take into account the overall welfare of the child and so it may be that even if a change in circumstances is shown and the full application is made, if the child is settled with the Special Guardian the court may not change or discharge the order. Each case is different and in each case the court’s guiding principle is what is best for the child.

Should you require further information regarding Special Guardianship Orders or you wish to apply for an order please contact either our Staines office, on 01784 426 710, or our London office on 020 7976 2233.

By Ashleigh Kunaka, paralegal to Amanda El-Guerissy and Hannah Fairhurst