The Basics of Child Guardianship

Today, there are over 400,000 children living in out-of-home care. 

There are manyreasons for this. While some of these children have no living parents, the majority do have at least one living parent.

If you know a child whose parents are unable or unwilling to take care of them, you could consider applying for guardianship to ensure that their rights are protected.

Read on to learn more about child guardianship and whether it might be a good option for you.

What Is Guardianship?

So, what does it mean to be a guardian? Child guardianship is a legal process that gives guardians the right to make certain decisions in respect of children (a child under guardianship is called a ward).

These decisions will often mirror parental decisions. For example, a guardian may be entitled to decide where a child attends school, where they should live, and what medical treatments they should receive.

Guardians are also generally responsible for a child’s day-to-day requirements. This includes the provision of food and housing, and transport to and from school and other activities.

There is also a form of guardianship in which a guardian takes charge of just a child’s estate. This is common in situations where the child has significant wealth, or where they require ongoing medical care. A guardian’s role here is to ensure that funds are used responsibly, in the way that best serves the interests of the child.

In all cases, guardianship continues until the child turns 18. 

Is Guardianship Necessary?

Applying for legal guardianship is a complex and potentially costly affair. You should therefore try to avoid it unless it’s entirely necessary.

In a case where a child has no parental figure, it will usually be required. Quite simply, a child needs a competent adult to manage their affairs, financial and otherwise.

Who Should Act As a Child’s Guardian?

If a deceased parent has named someone to act as guardian in their will, the responsibility will fall to this person in most cases. If there is a dispute over their suitability, the judge will place a lot of emphasis on the wishes of the parent but will independently evaluate suitability.

In many instances, however, more than one person might be well-suited to the role of guardian. If there is a dispute as to who should do it, the application can be a much more difficult process.

If there is disagreement as to who should occupy the role of guardian, a family lawyer can help you to tease out the important issues. Guardianships impose obligations which your lawyer will understand and be able to explain. Usually, the person best-positioned to meet these obligations will be the best guardian.

If no one from the family is fit to act as guardian, a county-appointed guardian may be required. 

Child Guardianship

Courts recognize that children are not legally capable of making important decisions for themselves. Therefore, a child who does not have a responsible adult in a position to make such decisions is assumed to need one.

So unless there is disagreement from another potential guardian of the child, courts are usually happy to consider a willing adult for the role.

Adults, on the other hand, are assumed to be able to take care of themselves. While this is not true in every case (such as where a person is disabled or suffering from dementia), judges require substantial proof that an adult is incapable of making important decisions before making them a ward.

The Benefits of Child Guardianship

There are a couple of reasons why child guardianship might be right for you.

Guardianship allows children to receive basic care where their biological parents are not in a position to provide it. 

It is a more secure option than custody. While custody of a child allows you to see to the day-to-day welfare requirements of a young person, it confers very few solid rights in terms of their long-term care.

Guardianship can also be used in cases where a child has to live away from home but still has a good relationship with their parents. This might be due to attending school in a different state, for example.

What Does a Child Guardianship Lawyer Do?

Child guardianship cases are not always straightforward.

A child guardianship lawyer will be able to advise you whether or not you need a child guardianship. If you do, they’ll support and inform you through every step of the process.

What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?

If a judge feels it is necessary in a given situation, they can appoint a guardian ad litem. This is a person who represents the interest of the child in any legal action that concerns them.

The guardian ad litem will usually be a lawyer. It is important to note the difference between a guardian ad litem and a county-appointed guardian; a guardian ad litem is an attorney that participates in the legal proceedings only.

These figures ensure that the interests of the child are the guiding objective in all legal matters.

Give a Child a Chance at a Better Life

Nobody wants to see a child in distress. If a young person does not have a responsible adult who can make important decisions for them, it will have huge implications for their quality of life.

When there is no better option, a child guardianship can be a positive force in the life of a vulnerable young person.

To learn more about how we can help you become a legal guardian, contact us today.

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