If you're considering becoming a legal guardian to a minor child, you likely have a number of questions running through your mind. While the process can be lengthy and may seem intimidating, the answers to the below questions should put your mind at ease and help you to better understand the process.
How is Legal Guardianship Established?
Legal guardianship is a process that involves the parents of a minor child or someone working on behalf of the child, such as a judge or guardian ad litem, petitioning to transfer the guardianship of said minor from one party (parents or the state) to another (guardian).
The reasons for transfer of guardianship from parents to another adult are varied and numerous. For example, the parents may feel that their child's needs (mental, physical, emotional) would be better met by someone else, or perhaps the parents will be unable to care for their child for a pre-determined amount of time and need to appoint a guardian for that time period (temporary guardianship). The establishment of guardianship is a big deal which is why there are so many steps in the process. In the end, however, a judge will determine whether guardianship will be in the best interest of the child and appoint guardianship based on recommendations of court investigators, therapists, and other such professionals.
Is Legal Guardianship Reversible?
Unlike adoption, legal guardianship is reversible, but there's a process involved in either reversing the guardianship order or terminating the order altogether.
If you're considering becoming a legal guardian, you may wonder whether the child's parents can show up on your doorstep and demand their child back. While parents are allowed to petition the courts for a change in the guardianship order, it's ultimately up to the judge to decide whether the order should be reversed or if the child should stay with the guardian. If, however, you feel as if you're not a good fit for the child you're currently a guardian of, you can also petition the court for reversal or termination of the guardianship order and the child would either return to their parents, be brought back into state care, or go to another carefully chosen guardian. Unless a guardianship order is temporary and only covers a short period of time, changes in guardianship will need to be handled through the legal system.
Who Makes These Decisions and When?
The process of legal guardianship begins and ends in the courts. While parents, guardians, and certain third parties (such as therapists) can state their opinions on the matter, the ultimate decision will be made by the judge.
In cases of termination of parental rights, parents will have no say whatsoever in guardianship cases. If parental rights haven't been terminated, however, the opinion of the parents will weigh heavily in court, unless of course they're proven to be unfit or unable to care for their child at this time. Guardianship decisions are made after a petition has been filed, usually by the parents or potential guardian, and after all interviews by court investigators have been conducted.
To learn more about legal guardianship, it's best to consult with a family law attorney like Lynn Jackson Shultz & Lebrun PC.