Permanent guardianship intends to create a relationship between a child and a caretaker, which is permanent and self-sustaining. It is meant to form a permanent family for the child without having to terminate the parental rights of the child’s parents. Depending on your state, only a relative, foster parent(s), or guardian of the child may qualify as a permanent guardian.
Generally, a relative is an immediate family member, grandparent, aunt, uncle, first cousin, great-grandparent, grand-aunt or grand-uncle, half-brother, or half-sister. However, neither a parent nor a step-parent can file for permanent guardianship. Additionally, a foster parent must have cared for the child for at least 6 months, and a guardian must have held guardianship for at least 6 months.
Some items are included in most Permanent Guardianship Orders. Therefore, assuming custody is also granted, a permanent guardian may exercise the same powers, rights, and duties respecting the care, maintenance, and treatment of the child as a parent would.
However, unlike a parent, the permanent guardian cannot be held liable by a third party for something the child has done wrong only because they are the permanent guardian. The court also has the right to limit any powers and duties awarded to the permanent guardian.
Who Financially Supports a Child Under a Guardianship?
Unless a court terminates the biological parent’s rights, the parents are responsible for financially supporting their child. In practice, however, financial support often becomes the guardian’s responsibility. The guardian may apply for financial benefits, such as public assistance and Social Security, on the child’s behalf.
Any funds the guardian receives for the child must be used for the child’s benefit. Depending on the amount of money involved, the guardian may be required to file periodic reports with a court displaying how much money was received for the child and how it was spent.
What are the Grounds for the Creation of a Permanent Guardianship?
The court may issue a guardianship order only if the court discovers that:
- The permanent guardianship is in the child’s best interests;
- Adoption, termination of parental rights, or return to parent is not appropriate for the child; and
- The proposed permanent guardian is suitable and can provide the child with a safe and permanent home.
In determining whether it is in the child’s best interests that a permanent guardian be assigned, the court needs to consider each of the following factors:
- The child’s need for continuity of care and caretakers;
- Timely integration into a stable and permanent home, taking into account the differences in the development and the concept of time of children of different ages;
- The physical, mental, and emotional health of all individuals involved to the degree that each affects the welfare of the child;
- The decisive consideration for fulfilling the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the child;
- The quality of the interaction and interrelationship of the child with their parent, siblings, relatives, and caretakers, including the proposed permanent guardian; and
- The child’s opinion of their own best interests in the matter.
What are the Permanent Guardian’s Duties and Responsibilities?
Typically, guardians fulfill the role of a parent for a child who is not their own. However, when a child has significant medical needs or financial assets, the child’s parent may choose to obtain guardianship over the child or the child’s estate.
Usually, a guardian’s responsibilities include providing for the child’s care and day-to-day needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care. Guardians over a child’s estate manage a child’s finances and are responsible for managing the funds until a child reaches age 18.
If the court places no limitations on the Permanent Guardianship Order, the permanent guardian will be responsible for physically and emotionally providing for the child. The guardian must provide a healthy and safe living environment, an education, and all the necessary and appropriate medical treatment, including but not limited to medical, dental, and psychiatric care.
Furthermore, the permanent guardian will be responsible for making the following decisions:
- Medical treatment;
- Right to marry or enlist in the military;
- Representation in legal matters;
- Welfare and upbringing and;
- Where the child will reside.
Because a parent’s parental rights are not terminated when a non-parent is given permanent guardianship, the court can determine the following:
- How much, if any, contact the parent(s) will have with the child after the guardianship is granted;
- How much, if any, information about the child the guardian should share with the parent(s);
- A visitation schedule, if appropriate, so that the parent(s) may spend time with the child.
- Once a permanent guardianship is granted, a parent may not petition the court to end the permanent guardianship and;
- A parent may petition to change a permanent guardianship order regarding contact, visitation, or information sharing.
Moreover, the child will continue to have the right to inherit from their parents, and they will continue to have the right to inherit from the child. If the permanent guardian wishes to have the child inherit from them, then the permanent guardian must state that desire in a will. The parents may continue to provide financial support to the child. In other words, the parents may be required to pay child support to the guardian even after the guardianship.
But, child support is handled in a separate proceeding. If the court grants you guardianship, you must file a separate petition for child support for the court to consider your request for child support.
When Does a Guardianship Terminate?
Guardianships can terminate according to a guardianship agreement or order or automatically when certain events happen. For example, a guardianship order may set a one-year time frame over guardianship. In that case, the guardianship would end automatically at the year mark.
In most cases, guardianships are left open-ended and last until one of the following events occurs:
- The guardian resigns;
- The child reaches the legal age of majority (usually 18);
- The child or the guardian passes away;
- The child’s assets have been depleted;
- A judge determines that the guardianship is no longer necessary and;
- A judge concludes that guardianship no longer serves the child’s best interests.
For instance, a judge will select a new guardian if a guardian requests to be released from guardianship. In certain cases where a guardian has misused the child’s assets or allowed or committed abuse, a judge will remove a guardian for cause on the presumption that the guardianship no longer serves the child’s best interests.
When Do I Need To Contact a Lawyer?
Obtaining a permanent guardian requires extensive research to determine if it is the right option. If you are struggling to decide and want to serve as a guardian, it is important to seek out your local guardianship attorney in your area to assist you with the process.
It can be difficult to navigate alone without a lawyer and understand all the different nuisances. As in any family law case, the courts emphasize the child’s best interest for any criteria dealing with guardianship cases. A qualified lawyer can provide you with the necessary legal guidance and advice to help you through the court process.