A guardianship refers to the type of legal arrangement where an adult (called the “legal guardian”) assumes legal responsibility for a minor who is unable to care for themselves (called the “ward”).

In general, a person can be appointed as a legal guardian in situations where the child’s natural parents have become deceased, or when there is some other reason that the parents cannot take care of the child any longer (e.g., need rehabilitation or are incarcerated).

Also, while a ward is usually a minor in need of legal guidance and care, they can sometimes be an adult who is not able to make legal decisions on their own. For example, when an adult ward is incapacitated or if they are diagnosed with a mental disability.

What are Some Types of Guardianship Legal Disputes?

A dispute involving legal guardianship issues can arise at any time before, during, or after the process of appointing a legal guardian. These disputes can often be similar in nature to those found in a divorce or legal separation context regarding child custody disputes.

One common example of a conflict that comes up during these types of matters is the question of which person should serve as the ward’s designated legal guardian.

Regardless of who is chosen as the ward’s legal guardian, the individual must be of sound mind and will need to have the child’s best interests at heart as well; otherwise, they could lose custody of the ward to the state.

In addition, a second type of issue that frequently arises during disputes involving guardianship is how the ward’s estate (e.g., property, personal belongings, and assets) will be managed.

A standard scenario is when a person who has acquired much wealth and who possesses many assets becomes incapacitated. In this case, the individual may require the assistance of a guardian to help them manage their finances. When this happens, the guardian must be able to exercise reasonable care and provide their utmost loyalty to the ward when managing the estate.

Lastly, one other type of guardianship dispute that occurs is when child support payments are at issue. There are some instances where a natural parent may not feel that they owe child support to the legal guardian of the child, since a natural parent is not considered to be a biological parent.

Depending on the laws of a particular jurisdiction and the terms of the child custody arrangement, however, there are some states that will permit a legal guardian to collect child support as if they were the child’s natural parent.

Can a Guardianship Arrangement be Challenged?

One unique feature found in many disputes over legal guardianship is that the guardian is frequently hand-selected by a court, according to which person the judge thinks is best suited to care for the child.

Thus, when there is an attempt to challenge a guardianship arrangement, it can often involve one or more parties who are actually challenging a court order, rather than a party’s personal decision or preference. This can make it very difficult for the challenging party to be able to achieve a successful outcome.

Some of the types of challenges that may arise during legal guardianship disputes include:

  • Challenging guardianship eligibility: Guardians are required to meet specific eligibility factors before they can act as one. If these factors are not met, then they should not or should no longer serve as a guardian. A guardianship can be challenged if new evidence arises that demonstrates that the guardian is unfit to care for the ward. If successful, then a new one will most likely need to be appointed.
  • Guardian of the person versus guardian of the estate: Many state laws will make a distinction between guardians of the person (i.e., the ward) and guardians of the estate (i.e., the overseer of the ward’s belongings). Sometimes a person may be fit to be a guardian of a person, but not suited to take on the guardian of the estate’s duties, or vice versa. When this happens, it may cause another person to challenge who was selected as guardian.
  • Testamentary appointments: The individual who is appointed for guardianship is usually chosen based on the instructions that the ward’s natural parents have written down in their will document. A dispute may arise over these types of guardianship appointments because sometimes the will is made early on in the child’s life and thus the situation or the relationship may have changed by the time the parents become deceased.

If the ward is a minor, then any disputes regarding the arrangements of legal guardianship will always be resolved in accordance with the child’s best interest standard. As discussed above, this is similar to the legal principles that are applied in both divorce and child custody cases. Also, keep in mind that in all of these cases, the laws will most likely vary depending on the state.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Involved in a Guardianship Legal Dispute?

Becoming a legal guardian is a huge responsibility and thus should be viewed as a very serious matter. Therefore, if you or a loved one has any questions or are involved in a dispute concerning legal guardianship laws, then you should consider contacting a local family law attorney.

A qualified family law attorney can explain how the guardianship process works, what your duties are as a guardian, and will be able to provide the type of legal guidance and representation that is necessary to have during any relevant court proceedings.