Becoming a legal guardian means you’ll have the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of an appointed child. Essentially, you will be responsible for the child’s care and wellbeing, if you are approved as their legal guardian.
As you might expect, becoming a legal guardian can be a complex process, which is why it’s always advisable to seek legal advice. In this article, we provide a guide to the process of legal guardianship and help you to find out everything you need to know about becoming a legal guardian.
What Does Legal Guardianship Mean?
Being given legal guardianship means you have the authority to make decisions on behalf of a child but there are different types of legal guardianship that can be granted, such as:
- Full guardianship
- Special guardianship
- Kinship care
- Emergency guardianship
If full guardianship is granted, you will have full legal custody of the child and be permitted to make decisions pertaining to all aspects of their care. In many instances, full guardianship means the child no longer has a relationship with their birth parents.
A special guardianship arrangement is similar to a full guardianship but is granted in situations where the child maintains contact with their birth parents.
If a child is placed in the care of a relative or close family friend, the individual(s) may be granted legal guardianship or a ‘kinship care’ arrangement can be made.
If a child is at immediate risk of harm or if a child’s parents are can no longer provide them with adequate care, then an emergency guardianship may be granted.
When Is Legal Guardianship Granted?
Legal guardianship is typically granted if the child’s parent(s) are unable or unwilling to care for them. If a parent’s health prevents them from providing adequate care for the child, for example, a special guardianship arrangement may be put in place to enable the child to maintain a relationship with their birth parent but be cared for by a guardian.
Alternatively, in cases of abuse or neglect, the courts may grant full guardianship to a third party so that the child can benefit from adequate care in a stable and safe home environment.
How Do I Get Legal Guardianship?
In most instances, you will need to inform your Local Authority that you wish to become a Legal Guardian so that the assessment process can be initiated. During the assessment process, you may be required to liaise with professionals, such as social workers, undergo home checks and background checks to ensure you can provide safe and suitable care for the child.
To get legal guardianship, a legal order must be issued. Often, this is done when the Local Authority brings the case to court but you may be able to initiate the process. As well as identifying you as the child’s legal guardian, the legal order will outline your rights and responsibilities as their guardian.
Due to the complexities involved in getting legal guardianship, it’s beneficial to obtain legal advice at the outset. With experienced solicitors able to provide advice and guidance, you can simplify and accelerate the process of getting legal guardianship by securing legal representation at an early stage.
Does It End at 18?
Unless the guardianship is formally ended sooner, legal guardianship ends when the child reaches the age of 18 years, as they are officially recognised as an adult.
Can It Be Reversed?
Legal guardianship can be reversed or terminated but it is only the court that can grant an order to end or reverse a guardianship. The child, the guardian and/or a third party can apply to the court to have the guardianship terminated or reversed.
Does Legal Aid Help with Guardianship?
Legal Aid is often available for matters relating to children, and it is possible to obtain Legal Aid if you’re applying to become a child’s guardian. In fact, the scope of Legal Aid has been extended to include Special Guardianship, so more people are now able to access financial support.
Does a Step-Parent Have Legal Guardianship?
A step-parent does not automatically have legal guardianship or parental responsibility of a stepchild. Although a stepparent can be appointed as a full or special guardian, they will need to obtain a court order to facilitate this.
Do You Get Paid for Legal Guardianship?
As a legal guardian, you may qualify for certain financial support, such as Child Benefit and, in some instances, the Local Authority may provide you with a regular allowance to cover some of the child’s expenses. In addition to this, you may be eligible to receive Guardian’s Allowance, which is currently £20.40 per week per child.
However, there is no guarantee of financial support, so you should consider whether you will be able to fund the cost of caring for a child before applying to become a legal guardian.
Can You Give Up Legal Guardianship?
You can’t simply decide that you no longer want to be a legal guardian without applying to the court. If you feel you are no longer able to care for the child or act as the child’s guardian, you will need to apply to the court to have the guardianship terminated and the court will make their decision based on the best interests of the child.
Can I Give It to Someone Else?
No, you cannot simply transfer legal guardianship to a third party. Instead, you would need to apply to the court and indicate that you wish to terminate your rights as the child’s guardian. The court will assess what is in the best interests of the child and, if appropriate, it will evaluate whether the third-party is a suitable replacement guardian.
Getting Legal Support to Become a Legal Guardian
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when it comes to legal guardianship. While caring for a child can be an extremely rewarding experience, a legal guardian has legal obligations and responsibilities, so it’s important to fully consider whether you’re able to provide the care and stability the child needs before applying for guardianship.
To find out more about the role of a guardian or to seek legal advice and representation throughout the guardianship process, contact our Children’s Services team now.