Guardianship Legal Disputes
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What is Guardianship?
Guardianship is a type of legal arrangement where an adult (called the “guardian”) assumes legal responsibility for a minor who is unable to care for themselves (called the “ward”). A person may be named a legal guardian in cases where the child’s natural parents have become deceased, or if they can’t take care of the child any longer.
Guardianship is also common in cases where the person is not a minor, but is unable to make legal decisions on their own (for example if the person is incapacitated or if they are diagnosed with a mental disability).
What are Some Types of Guardianship Legal Disputes?
Guardianship legal disputes can often arise before, during, and after the process of appointing a legal guardian. These can be similar in nature to child custody disputes in a divorce or legal separation context. A common legal dispute is the basic question of which person should serve as the ward’s guardian. The guardian needs to be a person who is of sound mind and has the child’s best interests in mind as well.
In addition, guardianship disputes often arise over the estate (the belongings and assets) of the ward. A common situation is where a person with many assets and much wealth becomes incapacitated. Here, they may require the assistance of guardian to help manage their finances. The guardian needs to exercise reasonable care and loyalty to the ward when managing the estate.
Lastly, another type of guardianship dispute is where child support payments are involved. Sometimes the natural parents may not feel that they owe child support to the legal guardian of their child, since they are not the biological parent. However, some jurisdictions allow legal guardians to collect child support as if they were the child’s natural parent. This of course may vary by jurisdiction and according to the child custody arrangement.
Can the Guardianship Arrangement Be Challenged?
One unique feature of many disputes over guardianship is that the guardian is often hand-selected by the court, according to which person the judge thinks is best for the child. Thus, when challenging a guardianship arrangement, it may often involve one or more parties who are actually challenging a court order rather than a party’s personal decisions or preference. This can be difficult to do without good reason.
Some types of legal guardianship disputes may involve:
- Challenging guardianship eligibility: Guardians need to meet certain eligibility factors before they can act as guardian. If these are not met, they should not or should no longer serve as a guardian. Guardianship is often challenged if new evidence arises that the guardian is unfit for caring for the ward.
- Guardian of the person vs. Guardian of the estate: Many jurisdictions make distinctions between guardians of the person (i.e., the ward) and guardians of the estate (i.e., overseer of the ward’s belongings). Some people may be fit to be a guardian of the person, but not the guardian of the estate, and vice-versa.
- Testamentary appointments: Guardianship is commonly appointed according to the instructions that the natural parents leave in a will document. Disputes can arise over these types of guardianship appointments, because the will is sometimes made early on in the child’s life, and the situation may have changed by the time the parents become deceased
If the ward is a minor, any disputes over legal guardianship arrangements are always made with the child’s best interests in mind. This is similar to basic legal principles that are applied in divorce and child custody cases, which can be different in each state.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I am Facing a Guardianship Legal Dispute?
Guardianship is a major responsibility and should not be approached lightly. If you or a loved one has any legal inquiries or disputes that concern guardianship laws, you may wish to consult with a family law attorney. A competent lawyer in your area can explain how guardianship works, and can provide the type of legal guidance and representation that is needed during the court hearings.
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Last Modified: 11-16-2012 02:07 PM PST
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