Guardianship refers to a legal relationship in which one person assumes legal responsibility for the care and protection of another person. The person being cared for is called the "ward", while the person providing the care is called the "guardian". In most cases, this is an adult caring for a child, but there are many different variations possible. For instance, it is common for an adult to become guardian of a person who is older than 18 years old but is physically or mentally incapacitated in some way.

Some common legal guardianship arrangements include:

  • Guardianship of a child or a minor
  • Adult guardianship (often for medical or psychiatric purposes, or for persons who are older in age)
  • Temporary guardianship (for instance, if a minor’s parents will be out of the country for a long period of time)

Who Can Become a Legal Guardian?

Generally speaking, anyone who is interested in assuming legal responsibility as a guardian over another person can initiate guardianship proceedings with the court. This generally involves a petition with the court, which may lead to a hearing in court to determine the person’s eligibility to serve as a guardian. For instance, the court may review the petitioner’s medical history, financial background, current work status, and relationship with the ward. In most cases, the ward will be entitled to an attorney at the hearing.

Guardianship may end under certain circumstances, including: the ward has reached a legal age (usually 18 years old); the guardian has become ill or incapacitated; the guardian has forfeited their legal rights; the court or state statutes have decreed the guardianship to be expired or terminated.

What If I Have a Dispute over Guardianship?

It can sometimes happen that a legal dispute over guardianship arises. Some common disputes include:

  • Disputes over who can serve as guardian
  • Disputes over the scope of the guardian’s rights
  • Conflicts regarding termination of a guardianship
  • Abuse of guardianship rights

Conflicts may lead to various remedies, including damages awards, replacement of a guardian, or other consequences. State laws may vary regarding the extent to which a guardian can act on behalf of a ward.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Legal Guardianship?

Legal guardianship is a serious matter, and courts put much analysis into whether a guardianship arrangement will be beneficial or not. You may need to hire a family law attorney in your area if you have any questions or legal concerns regarding guardianship. Your attorney can provide you with legal research and advice regarding your options, either as a ward or a guardian. Also, if you need to file any type of lawsuit for a remedy, your attorney can represent you in court.