Legal Eagle: The role of Special Guardian

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My three year old grandson has been in my care for a year and a half and as a result of court proceedings I have recently been named as his ‘Special Guardian’. I am not familiar with this term and I am confused as to what rights I have over my grandson as his Special Guardian and whether I am entitled to any financial support. Would you be able to clarify this for me?

The order which you are describing is a ‘Special Guardianship Order’. This Order is made by the Family Court which places a child or young person in the care of someone other than their parents on a long-term basis. The person with whom a child is placed will become the child’s Special Guardian.

As you have been named your grandson’s Special Guardian, you will have parental responsibility for him until he reaches the age of 18. Parental responsibility means that as well as making general day-to-day decisions, you have the responsibility to make important decisions concerning the long-term care and upbringing of your grandson, such as deciding which school he is to attend. As your grandson’s Special Guardian, you will have a higher level of parental responsibility than his birth parents. This means that your opinions will take precedence if a conflict were to arise between yourself and your grandson’s parents.

However, due to the fact that your grandson’s parents still have parental responsibility, there are some decisions which cannot be made without their consent. For example, you would not be able to change your grandson’s surname or move him abroad for more than three months without the agreement of others with parental responsibility, or the permission of the court. In addition to this, if adoption became an option in the future for your grandson, you would not be able to override his parent’s refusal to consent to his adoption.

It would be possible for you to apply to the Local Authority for a Special Guardianship Allowance. This allowance is means tested and would depend on your individual circumstances. Special Guardianship Allowance will only be payable in certain circumstances where the Local Authority

l believes that it is necessary to enable the Special Guardian to look after the child and meet the child’s needs.

l Believes that the child needs special care due to illness, disability, emotional or behavioural difficulties or previous abuse and neglect.

l Considers that it is appropriate to contribute to any legal costs for applying for a Special Guardianship Order, including court fees of a Special Guardian.

l Considers that it is appropriate to contribute towards the cost of maintaining and accommodating the child, for example to help fund adaptations to the home, furniture, clothing and transport.

n Ben Hoare Bell LLP has many specialist Family Solicitors who can advise you about Special Guardianship Orders as well as other childcare issues. To speak to a Solicitor please phone 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. For further information visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk.