Guardianship for a Child — What You Need to Know

When Guardianship May Be Necessary for a Child

Guardianship for a child generally becomes necessary when the child’s parents are no longer able to care for their child on a long-term basis. When a child no longer has a parent who can make decisions for them, an adult needs to be appointed as the caregiver and decision-maker for that child to ensure that the child is cared for in the absence of their parents. Without the authorization granted by a guardianship, caregivers can often find they are unable to access medical care, enroll the child in school, or make other critical decisions for that child.

How to Establish a Guardianship for a Child

For every child, there are two guardianship roles: guardian of the person and guardian of the estate. One person can hold both roles, but those roles can also be divided between multiple adults. The guardian of the person is responsible for making decisions for the child in the areas of care, support, education, and medical treatment. The guardian of the estate is responsible for any money or property belonging to the child.

Petition for Guardianship of a Minor

In order to become a child’s guardian, for either the person and/or the estate, the adult seeking guardianship must file a Petition for Guardian of a Minor stating both why the child needs a guardian and why this particular adult, or adults, would be an appropriate as guardian(s) for the child. The petitioner(s) must meet the following qualifications in order to be appointed:

  • Be a resident of the United States;
  • Be of sound mind;
  • Not be legally disabled; and
  • Not have a felony conviction that involved harm or threat to a child.

Types of Guardianships

There are three types of guardianships: plenary, standby, and short-term guardians.

Plenary Guardian

A plenary guardian is someone who assumes that role for the long-term and will only occur under certain circumstances. A plenary guardian can only be appointed by a judge, and only under the following circumstances:

  • The parents are unable or unwilling to make daily decisions for the child;
  • The parents voluntarily left the child with another adult and did not return;
  • The parents agree to the guardianship;
  • The parents are detained, arrested, removed, or deported because of immigration issues.

Standby Guardian

A standby guardian is someone selected by the parent to become a guardian if a parent or current guardian is unable to care for the child due to illness, death, or long-term separation from the child. A standby guardian does not require a judge’s approval, but there must be a written designation of a standby guardian witnessed by two other people. A standby guardian must meet the following requirements:

  • The parent or legal guardian consents;
  • The parent or legal guardian can no longer make or carry out daily child care decisions for the child; or
  • The parent or legal guardian is detained, arrested, removed, or deported because of immigration issues.

Short-term Guardian

Finally, there is a short-term guardian. A short-term guardian can be appointed when a parent knows they will be unable to make daily decisions for their child for a finite period and that parent is willing and able to resume responsibility for the child when that time expires. One example would be a parent in the military who is going to be deployed. That parent could name a short-term guardian for the duration of their deployment, which would expire once the parent returned home and could resume responsibility for the child.

Children Age 14 and Over

It is important to note that children over the age of fourteen are to receive notice of when someone is seeking guardianship of them and can provide input to the judge and, if appointed, a Guardian ad Litem regarding who they want to as their caretaker. This can play an important decision in who is appointed as guardian if there are multiple individuals petitioning for guardianship of the child.

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