In some instances, it may be necessary for a minor to live with a guardian other than their parents. A legal guardian assumes many of the responsibilities of a legal parent. In many states, this includes providing basic provisions such as food and housing. Below are some commonly asked questions pertaining to the guardianship of minor children.
Frequently Asked Questions About Guardianship
Who or what is a guardian?
A guardian is someone who takes care of a child's needs. This typically includes such things as shelter, education, food, and medical care. Guardians also usually manage the finances of the child.
How do guardianships differ from adoptions?
Guardianship of minors pertains to a legal relationship between a minor child and a guardian that gives the guardian certain rights and obligations regarding the child. A guardianship doesn't sever the legal relationship that exists between a child and his or her biological parents. Instead, it co-exists with that legal relationship.
An adoption, on the other hand, permanently alters the legal relationship between a child and his or her biological parents. Adopted parents become the legal parents and biological parents give up all parental rights and obligations. This means that biological parents no longer owe child support, and that the child can no longer automatically inherit from his or her biological parents.
How does a guardianship of minors end?
Several events typically trigger the end of a guardianship:
- The death of the child
- The child reaches the legal age of majority, typically 18 in most states
- A judge determines that a guardianship is no longer necessary or beneficial for the child
- The sole purpose of the guardianship was to manage the child's finances, and the child's financial assets are exhausted.
Guardians can also ask a court to be relieved of his or her guardianship, and once accepted by the court, the court will appoint a new guardian.
What does the term "guardian ad litem" mean?
Guardians ad litem are court-appointed representatives who stand in the shoes of the minor during court proceedings that involve the minor in some way. This is common in divorces and disputes regarding estates, or any other situation where the court determines that the minor (or incapacitated adult) cannot successfully represent his or herself. Courts may appoint a close relative or a neutral attorney ( guardians ad litem), to advocate for the child's interests.
If I'm living with a child who is not my own, should I become a guardian?
If you are planning on taking care of the child on a long-term basis, then you should consider becoming a guardian. Without guardianship, you will have difficulty getting medical care for the child, enrolling him or her in school, as well as a host of other problems. Also, because a guardianship of minor children creates a legal right, you will have some say in the child's future as a guardian, whereas a mere caretaker would not.
Are there reasons I should not become a guardian?
There are many good reasons a person would not want to become a guardian. Filing for guardianship could set off a dispute that you may want to avoid for both the child's sake and yours. You might also know that a child's biological parents would object and make the guardianship process extremely difficult. You can still try to raise a child without guardianship, but you will have significant problems in doing so. Many institutions, such as hospitals and schools require parental authorization.
Each state has different rules, with different responsibilities, authority, and obligations of the guardian. Talk to a local family law attorney to understand the guardianship regulations in your state.
If I'm already a parent, would I ever need to become my child's guardian?
Yes, if a child is left something in a person's will, receives a settlement, or is owed money or property above a certain amount, you may need to become the child's guardian. Courts may be reluctant to hand over financial assets intended for a child to the child's parents. The concern is that parents will misuse a gift that was intended for the child. By setting up a guardianship, a legal relationship - and thus a set of obligations - is in place to make the parent legally liable for those assets and their management.
Make Sure Your Guardianship Process Goes Smoothly: Hire an Attorney
Legal guardianship of minor children is regulated by state laws. Each state has its own unique requirements and obligations associated with becoming the guardian of a minor child. To avoid complications and ensure a successful legal process, consider meeting with an experienced family law attorney licensed in your state.