Burton Law Firm Ogden Logo in White

Legal guardianship is a complex and critical matter, whether you want to become a guardian or need to set one up for a family member. This blog demystifies the concept of legal guardianship, covering who can become a legal guardian and the rights and responsibilities involved. 

We’ll guide you through the process of establishing guardianship, discuss potential challenges, and provide valuable resources. We aim to equip you with the essential knowledge to handle the intricacies of legal guardianship confidently.

Let’s dive in. 

What is legal guardianship?

Legal guardianship is a legal arrangement in which an adult takes responsibility for a child’s well-being and makes important decisions on their behalf. It’s like being a parent but with some legal differences. 

Guardianship is often necessary when a child’s parents are unable or unfit to care for them. It’s designed to protect the child’s best interests and ensure they receive the support and care they need.

To obtain temporary guardianship, you need to file a petition with the court, clearly explaining the grounds for seeking temporary guardianship. The court will then evaluate the situation and decide whether it is necessary to appoint a temporary guardian.

It is important to note that temporary guardianship is time-limited and will automatically expire at the end of the specified period. However, it is possible to become a permanent legal guardian through the courts. 

Who can become a guardian?

When it comes to legal guardianship, it’s important to understand who can step into this role. 

Age

Firstly, let’s talk about age. In most places, the law states that a person must be at least 18 years old to become a legal guardian. This is because being a guardian involves making important decisions for someone else, and the law considers 18 to be the age when a person is mature enough to handle such responsibilities. So, if you are under 18, you cannot become a legal guardian.

Capability

Secondly, a potential guardian must also be mentally and physically capable of caring for another person. This means they should be able to provide for the basic needs of the person they will be responsible for, like food, clothing, and shelter. 

They must be able to make crucial decisions in the best interest of the person they are caring for. So, if someone has a serious illness or injury that prevents them from fulfilling these responsibilities, they may be unable to become a legal guardian.

The relationship between the guardian and the person needing guardianship

Now, let’s talk about the relationship between the potential guardian and the person needing guardianship. In many cases, a family member or a close friend of the person in need may become their guardian. 

This is because the law recognizes the importance of maintaining family and social connections. It is believed that someone who knows the person well will be able to make decisions that align with their wishes and interests. 

However, the law does not restrict guardianship solely to family members. In certain situations, a person not related to the individual in need can become their guardian, provided they can demonstrate a strong relationship and a willingness to care for them.

What if multiple people want to be the guardian?

Now, you may be wondering, what happens if multiple people want to become a guardian? Well, the court ultimately makes the decision based on what is in the best interest of the person in need of guardianship. 

The court will consider factors such as the person’s relationship with each potential guardian, their ability to provide care and support, and their willingness to work with others involved in the person’s life. It is important to remember that the court’s primary concern is to ensure the safety and well-being of the person in need.

A young girl sits in a courtroom facing away from the audience, symbolizing legal guardianship proceedings.

The process of establishing guardianship

Like any process you go through in the court system, there are steps to take to establish guardianship. Here’s a look at each one. 

  1. Determine the need for guardianship: Before initiating the process, carefully evaluate the situation and seek professional advice to confirm whether legal guardianship is necessary or if alternative options are available.
  2. Consult an attorney: It is strongly recommended to counsel with a legal guardianship attorney in guardianship cases. An attorney specializing in family law can guide you through the process and ensure compliance with local laws and regulations.
  3. File a petition: Working with your attorney, you will need to file a petition for guardianship with the appropriate court in the jurisdiction where the ward resides.
  4. Provide necessary documentation: Alongside the petition, gather essential documentation, such as the ward’s birth certificate, medical records, and any legal or financial documents relevant to the case.
  5. Background check and interviews: The court may require potential guardians to undergo a background check and interviews to ensure their suitability for the role.
  6. Attend a hearing: Once your petition is submitted and reviewed, a hearing will be scheduled. During the hearing, evidence will be presented, and the court will decide regarding the guardianship.
  7. Court-appointed evaluation: In some cases, the court may order an evaluation by a professional, such as a social worker or psychologist, who will assess the ward’s needs and the potential guardian’s ability to fulfill them.
  8. Notification of interested parties: The court will typically require the petitioner to notify certain individuals, such as the ward’s parents or other immediate family members, regarding the guardianship proceedings.
  9. Obtain consent or contest: Interested parties will have the opportunity to provide their consent or contest the petition for guardianship during the hearing or at a later stage.
  10. Attend training sessions: Depending on the jurisdiction, potential guardians may be required to attend training sessions to enhance their understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

A guardian’s responsibilities

As a guardian, it is your duty to make important decisions and ensure the well-being of the person under your care. Let’s explore some of the key responsibilities of being a guardian.

Act in your ward’s best interest

First and foremost, you must always act in the best interest of the person you are responsible for. This means making decisions that will benefit them and promote their overall welfare. You may need to make choices regarding their education, healthcare, and living arrangements. 

It’s paramount to listen to their needs and wishes and consider what is best for them in the long run. Remember, you are their advocate and protector.

A safe environment

Another important responsibility is providing a safe, nurturing environment for the person under your guardianship. This includes ensuring they have a place to live that meets their needs. It should be clean, comfortable, and free from any hazards. 

You must also provide them with proper nutrition, clothing, and access to medical care when needed. Your role is to make sure they have everything necessary for their well-being.

Taking care of their finances

As a guardian, you may also need to manage the person’s finances. This means handling their money and making decisions about how it should be spent. Maintaining thorough records of all income and expenses related to their care is essential. This will help you stay organized and accountable. 

Getting an education

Furthermore, you need to ensure that the person you are responsible for receives an appropriate education. This applies if they are of school age or require special educational services. It is your responsibility to ensure they are enrolled in a suitable school or program that meets their specific needs. 

You should also stay involved in their education, attending meetings and advocating for any additional support they may require. Education is crucial for their development and future opportunities.

Communication and collaboration

Communicating and collaborating with others is also essential to being a guardian. You will need to work closely with teachers, doctors, social workers, and other professionals involved in the person’s care. You may need to provide information about their needs, attend meetings, and advocate for their rights. 

Building positive relationships and open lines of communication with these individuals will help ensure the best possible care for the person under your guardianship.

Contact and visitation 

Additionally, as a guardian, you must maintain regular contact and visitation with the person you are responsible for. This is crucial for maintaining a strong bond and providing emotional support. Spending quality time together can help them feel loved, valued, and secure. 

Preparing for emergencies

Lastly, being a guardian means being prepared for emergencies and making contingency plans. You should have important documents such as medical records, legal papers, and emergency contact information readily accessible. 

It’s essential to have a plan in place in case you are unable to fulfill your guardianship duties temporarily or permanently. This may involve identifying and establishing alternate caregivers or making arrangements for their future care.

A woman and her daughter walking down a park path.

Let Burton Family Attorneys be your legal guardianship attorney

If you’re considering legal guardianship or have any questions about family law, Burton Family Attorneys is here to help. Our experienced team understands the complexities and sensitivities involved in guardianship cases and is committed to providing you with the guidance and support you need. 

 

Don’t navigate this process alone; contact us today to ensure that your guardianship decisions are made with confidence and backed by professional legal expertise. Reach out to Burton Family Attorneys for a consultation, and take the first step toward securing the best outcome for you and your loved ones.