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FAQ on Guardianship of Minor Children

These are some common questions pertaining to the guardianship of a minor

Who or what is a guardian?

A guardian is someone who takes care of a child's needs. This typically includes such things as shelter, education, food and medical care. Guardians also usually manage the finances of the child.

How do guardianships differ from adoptions?

A guardianship is a legal relationship between a minor child and a guardian that gives the guardian certain rights and obligations regarding the child. A guardianship does not sever the legal relationship that exists between a child and his or her biological parents, however. Instead, it co-exists with that legal relationship.

An adoption, on the other hand, permanently alters the legal relationship between a child and his or her biological parents. Adopted parents become the legal parents and biological parents give up all parental rights and obligations. This means that biological parents no longer owe child support, and that the child can no longer automatically inherent from his or her biological parents.

How do guardianships end?

Several events typically trigger the end of a guardianship:

  • The death of the child
  • The child reaches the legal age of majority, typically 18 in most states
  • A judge determines that a guardianship is no longer necessary or beneficial for the child
  • The sole purpose of the guardianship was to manage the child's finances, and the child's financial assets are exhausted.

Guardians can also ask a court to be relieved of his or her guardianship, at which point the court will appoint a new guardian.

What does the term "guardian ad litem" mean?

Guardians ad litem are court-appointed representatives who stand in the shoes of the minor during court proceedings that involve the minor in some way. This is common in divorces and disputes regarding estates, or any other situation where the court determines that the minor (or incapacitated adult) cannot successfully represent his or herself. Close relatives are the preferred guardians ad litem, but attorneys may also be used.

If I'm living with a child who is not my own, should I become a guardian?

If you are planning on taking care of the child on a long term basis, then you should consider becoming a guardian. Without guardianship, you will have difficulty getting medical care for the child, enrolling him or her in school, as well as a host of other problems. Also, because guardianship creates a legal right, you will have some say in the child's future as a guardian, whereas a mere caretaker would not.

Are there reasons I should not become a guardian?

There are many good reasons a person would not want to become a guardian. Filing for guardianship could set off a dispute that you may want to avoid for both the child's sake and yours. You might also know that a child's biological parents would object and make the guardianship process extremely difficult. You can still try to raise a child without guardianship, but you will have significant problems in doing so. Many institutions, such as hospitals and schools require parental authorization. Each state has different rules, so research your state's laws to reveal any potential problems you might have.

If I'm already a parent, would I ever need to become my child's guardian?

Yes, if a child is left something in a person's will, you may need to become the child's guardian. Courts are reluctant to hand over financial assets intended for a child to the child's parents. The concern is that parents will misuse a gift that was intended for the child. By setting up a guardianship, a legal relationship - and thus a set of obligations - is in place to make the parent legally liable for those assets and their management.

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