Areas of Practice
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Children Law relates to Public Law Children Act proceedings such as applications for care orders by local authority social services departments, private law Children Act proceedings such as applications about the place of residence of or contact with children, and adoption.
BG Lawyers LLP are specialists in the area of Public Law, please call us now and speak in confidence with one of our advisors.
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Long-term child protection measures have to be referred to the Court under what are termed Care Proceedings.
A Social Services Department can ask the Court to make a Care Order (including a short term "Interim" Care Order) if the Court is satisfied that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm or its likelihood is as a result of the care the child is receiving (or if the child is beyond parental control). Interim Orders can last for a first period of up to eight weeks and thereafter the situation has to be reviewed at four weekly intervals by the Court.
It is vitally important that parents obtain legal advice to find out how best to present their case and to consider what expert assessments may be necessary to reach the truth of any given situation. If you are involved in any child protection case you should be aware that free legal aid is available for all parents involved in Court Proceedings and you may well be entitled to legal help for any preliminary work for example in attending a Child Protection Conference.
We are members of the Law Society Children Panel Advanced.
In our role as legal advisors to you as parents, we will:
If at all possible the Court will want to work to reuniting a child with his or her family provided any concerns can be addressed and the child can return in safety. If you are subject to an investigation by Social Services please do not delay obtaining legal advice.
Special Guardianship Orders
A Special Guardianship Order(SGO) is a new legal option intended to provide stability and long-term security for children where adoption is not suitable.
The SGO appoints one or more people to be a child's special guardian giving them parental responsibility and the ability to make day to day decisions on all aspects of caring for the child. Unlike Adoption, an SGO retains the link between the child and their family and a Court can vary or end an SGO if circumstances change considerably.
A special guardianship will suit children who do not want to be legally separated from their birth family, but would gain from greater legal security and permanence. It will benefit children in long-term foster care or those who are cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider family. An SGO is particularly appropriate where birth parents, or others with parental responsibility, cannot provide a permanent home but the child's links with the birth family need to be preserved. A special guardian can also appoint a guardian for the child in the event of their death. Before a special guardianship order is made the social services department has to prepare a detailed report for the court and if requested has to carry out an assessment of what financial and other support services the family will need to care for the child.
The special guardian cannot change the child's surname or remove the child from the country for longer than 3 months without the written consent of all those with parental responsibility or an order of the court although the question of what surname the child should have and what other contact the child should have to other family members will be considered by the court when the order is made.
Who can apply for special guardianship?
An SGO must be over 18 and must not be the child's parent. Joint applicants need not be married. A court can make a SGO during family proceedings if they think that's the best solution. The following persons are entitled to apply for a SGO:
Adoption is a way of providing a new family for those who cannot be brought up by their own parents and the means of giving them an opportunity to start again.
Adoption makes a child legally the child of new parents and the child becomes a full member of the new family, usually taking the family's name. The birth parents no longer have any legal connection with the child, and normally the only contact that is preserved is in the form of a yearly written report on progress.
The legal process
Adoption is a legal process in which parental responsibility is transferred from whoever currently holds parental responsibility to the adopters. Once an adoption order has been granted it can't be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances. A court cannot make an adoption order until the child has lived with the adopters for at least 13 weeks. This period does not start until the child is six weeks old, so no order is ever made before a child is 19 weeks old. If it is likely that the birth parents will agree to an adoption order, the court appoints a Reporting Officer, who checks that the birth parents understand what adoption is about and witnesses their agreement to the adoption order being made. If the birth parents do not agree to adoption the court will appoint a Children's Guardian to advise the court whether such an order would be in the child's best interests. Step-parents can apply to jointly adopt a child with one of the child's natural parents. Notice has to be given to the local social service department who will provide a detailed report for the court and a recommendation as to whether there are any issues that need to be addressed before an adoption order is made or which might make adoption an unsuitable option. The application form is complex and needs to be completed carefully and fully.
Restrictions on who can be adopted
To be eligible for adoption the child must be under the age of 18 years. A child who is married or has been married cannot be adopted.
Step Parents, Unmarried Couples and Same Sex Couples
Thanks to the amendments to the adoption law, which came into force at the beginning of 2006, step-parents, unmarried couples and same-sex couples, can now apply to adopt a child within their household. This represents the most important overhaul of adoption law in more than 25 years, and is a move in the right direction.
Until now adoption orders were made only in favour of married couples, single parents or one partner in an unmarried or same sex couple; but the new law now means that unmarried couples or same sex couples can make their own applications to adopt their stepchild. Upon the making of an adoption order the adopted child is treated legally as if it were born to the adopter and the adopters acquire parental responsibility for the child.
A step-parent can obtain parental responsibility for a stepchild by agreement with the natural parents, who already have parental responsibility, or by court order. They can acquire all the legal rights and responsibilities for their stepchild, and share parental responsibility with their spouse.
This does not remove parental responsibility from the other birth parent(s), if they already have it, unless it has been done by a court order.
Step-parents can still apply to court for a residence order in respect of their stepchild and obtain parental responsibility that way.
Who can adopt?
Anyone over 21 years old can apply as long as they can provide a loving permanent, stable and caring home and has been assessed as capable of meeting the child's needs. A person cannot be disqualified by reason of disability, single / married / unmarried status, employed or unemployed, whatever race, religion, or sexuality, and there is no upper age limit.
Adoption is a complex process with huge implications for all concerned. It is important to get it right and to find out all of the pros and cons before proceeding.
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