Entering a guardianship agreement is no small decision, but it is one that can have a considerable impact on the life of the child that you choose to become the guardian of. This is a decision that can have huge consequences and one that you need to be totally confident about before you move forwards and initiate the process. In order to help you untangle what can often be an emotional and confusing time, it is important that you have a legal expert on your side who you can trust – and this is where we can help. Our team has a wealth of experience in handling all types of guardianship cases and can hold your hand as you navigate the process of bringing a child into your life – as well as the responsibilities and requirements that go alongside this decision.
What Is Guardianship?
In the simplest terms, a guardian refers to a person who has the right and authority to make any legal decisions about a specific child. They are appointed through a court process and, if approved, will essentially assume full legal responsibility for the child that they are named as the legal guardian of. Guardians have a number of responsibilities and requirements that they must provide for the child in their care, and these include:
- All medical and dental needs
- Education and educational provision
- Provision for the physical and emotional growth of the child
In a number of ways, guardians act in a similar role to parents, and this means that they are required to focus on the personal welfare and wellbeing of the child, maintain close contact with their physician and school, and handle their basic financial affairs, including filing income tax returns if this is required.
Who Can Become A Guardian?
Essentially, anyone with an interest in the welfare of the child can be appointed as guardian by the court. Parties are required to declare whether they have a criminal record or have ever been convicted of a crime, whether they have ever had a license for professional practice or occupation canceled or revoked for any reason, and whether they have ever filed for bankruptcy, or received protection under the bankruptcy laws. A consent must also be signed, and this should state that the prospective guardian is freely and willingly agreeing to serve as guardian.
Guardianship over a minor child must be approved by the court, and the process begins with a petition being filed in the Probate Court. At this point, any parents, or any other party with a legal right to make decisions regarding the child, including trustees, will be entitled to object. If the guardianship is approved, the judge will sign an order granting this to the named party, and the order will typically remain in place until the child reaches 18 years of age. In some cases, the guardianship order may be terminated prior to this point; the parent will need to petition the court to “vacate” or end the guardianship, and a judge will hold a hearing to determine whether ending the guardianship is in the best interests of the child.
What Rights Do Guardians Have?
The law states that a guardian will possess all of the rights and responsibilities that a parent would, and these include:
A guardian is entitled to decide where a child lives – and this can be in or outside of the state, as long as the intended location is proven to be in the best interests of the child. In very rare circumstances, a judge may prohibit a guardian from moving a child out of state, but this is unusual.
Agreeing to marriage
If the child in question requires the approval of an adult to get married, the guardian has the right and power to give this permission.
Agreeing to adoption
If the situation determines that it is in the child’s best interests for them to be adopted, the guardian will have the right to agree to this decision, even if it is against the wishes of the birth parent or parents.
Part of the role of guardian means making medical decisions for the child in your care, including agreeing to treatments or surgeries, attending medical appointments, and making decisions on life-saving measures.
It should be noted that there are some areas in which guardians are not expected to take responsibility, and this includes providing financial support for the child above and beyond the support that can be provided from the assets, money, and estate of the minor in question. In addition, parents are still obligated to offer financial support to their child, and any money or property that makes up the child’s estate must be kept separate from that of the guardians – a separate bank account will usually be used to help keep things clear and safe. Guardians can, however, obtain child support, and may also be entitled to apply for any private funds or public assistance on the child’s behalf, if that child is likely to be eligible. A guardian can also not be held responsible for any damage or injury that the child carries out due to wilful misconduct or negligence, and this can offer some reassurance if the child is known to behave in a problematic way, or has additional needs and trauma.
Your Next Steps
If you are considering becoming a guardian for a minor child, or are at the very start of your journey towards guardianship, it is imperative that you have a trusted, experienced attorney on hand. We can help to answer your questions, protect your rights, and ensure that you have the information and support you need to provide the best possible outcome for the child in your care.