Shared guardianship refers to a legal arrangement where two or more people are appointed as the legal guardians of a child. This is commonly done when there are multiple people, such as a parent and grandparent, who wish to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child.
How Shared Guardianship Works
In a shared guardianship, the legal guardians have equal rights when it comes to making important decisions about the child’s welfare, education, health, religion, and finances. All legal guardians have to agree on major decisions about the child.
Shared guardianship allows the guardians to divide and share the day-to-day caretaking and financial obligations for the child. For instance, the parent may be more involved in the daily caretaking while the grandparent provides financial support. Or the grandparent may be deeply involved in the day-to-day care while the parent oversees educational and medical decisions.
Reasons for Shared Guardianship with a Parent and Grandparent
There are a few common scenarios where a parent and grandparent may decide to pursue shared guardianship:
- Death of one parent: If one parent dies, the surviving parent and a grandparent may share guardianship to provide extra support in raising the child.
- Incapacity of a parent: If a parent is incapacitated due to illness or disability, the competent parent and a grandparent can share guardianship. This provides the child with two actively involved guardians.
- Parent is a minor: If the parent of the child is under 18 years old, the parent’s parents (the child’s grandparents) may share guardianship until the parent becomes an adult.
- Deployment of a parent: If a parent needs to be away for long periods like military deployment, a grandparent can share guardianship to provide care consistency for the child.
- Divorce: During a divorce, one parent and one grandparent can share guardianship if both parents agree to this arrangement.
- Incarceration of a parent: If a parent is incarcerated and unable to care for the child, the other parent and a grandparent can share guardianship.
Benefits of Shared Guardianship with a Parent and Grandparent
There are good reasons why a parent and grandparent may choose to have a shared guardianship agreement:
- Gives the child two actively involved guardians – The child has two caretakers who can provide love, support and nurturing. If one guardian is unavailable, the other can step in.
- Provides family continuity – Guardianship with a grandparent maintains the child’s family bonds. The grandparent can keep family traditions and history alive.
- Grants rights to the grandparent – Shared guardianship gives the grandparent legal rights regarding raising the child. They have an equal say in important decisions.
- Shares the responsibilities – The work of raising a child is demanding. Shared guardianship allows the parent and grandparent to divide up caretaking duties.
- Allows the parent help when needed – A single parent balancing work and child-rearing can get overwhelmed. A grandparent guardian can provide help when the parent needs relief.
- Keeps siblings together – Shared guardianship may allow siblings to stay together rather than placing children in separate foster homes.
The Legal Process for Shared Guardianship with a Parent and Grandparent
If a parent and grandparent decide shared guardianship is right for their situation, they will need to go through a legal process to establish the shared arrangement.
Petitioning the Court
The first step is for the parent and grandparent to petition for shared guardianship in the appropriate court, usually family court. The petition should:
- Explain why shared guardianship would be in the best interest of the child
- Provide background information showing the petitioners are suitable guardians
- Outline how guardianship responsibilities would be divided
- Have supporting documents like financial statements and criminal background checks attached
Notice that guardianship has been petitioned for must be legally served to certain interested parties. Typically, notice must go to:
- The child, if they are over 14 years old
- Any other parent or person with legal custody
- Anyone nominated as guardian in a deceased parent’s will
Conducting an Investigation
The court will have a probation officer, court investigator or guardian ad litem conduct an investigation. They ensure guardianship is needed, gather input from interested parties, and check the proposed guardians are suitable.
Holding a Court Hearing
A hearing is held where the petitioners explain why shared guardianship is in the child’s best interest. The judge considers the evidence and may ask questions. Interested parties can also provide input.
If satisfied, the judge approves a shared guardianship order outlining each guardian’s rights and responsibilities. The parent and grandparent must sign a statement accepting their role as legal guardians.
Making Shared Guardianship Work Smoothly
Once shared guardianship is legally established, the parent and grandparent guardians need to work together to create a smooth arrangement focused on the child’s needs. Here are tips:
- Communicate frequently – Have regular discussions to coordinate schedules, share information, and confer about decisions.
- Split up responsibilities – Based on abilities and availability, divide tasks like taking to doctor appointments, helping with homework, providing transportation, managing finances, etc.
- Respect each other’s methods – There may be disagreements in child-rearing styles. Compromise and keep the focus on the child.
- Allow each other breaks – Taking turns caring for the child prevents burnout. Give each other guilt-free personal time.
- Be flexible – Life brings changes and challenges. Adapt to new circumstances with compassion and creativity.
- Address problems respectfully – Have earnest conversations and keep egos aside if difficulties arise. Seek mediation if needed.
- Celebrate shared successes – Note milestones the child reaches with your combined support and care. Express gratitude for each other’s efforts.
With open communication, flexibility, and lots of love, a parent and grandparent can effectively work together in a shared guardianship to raise a happy, healthy child.