Becoming the legal guardian of your grandchild is a big responsibility, but can be very rewarding. As a grandparent, you want to ensure your grandchild is properly cared for if their parents are unable to do so.
There are a few ways grandparents can obtain legal guardianship over their grandchildren:
If the parents are only temporarily unable to care for the child, the parents can sign a power of attorney giving the grandparent temporary guardianship. This allows the grandparent to make legal decisions regarding healthcare and education while the parents get back on their feet. Temporary guardianship usually lasts 6 months to a year.
If the parents will be unable to care for the child for an extended period of time, the grandparent will need to petition the court for permanent legal guardianship. This involves filing paperwork with the court and attending a hearing. The judge will decide guardianship based on the child’s best interests.
Permanent guardianship typically lasts until the child turns 18. The grandparent is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child. Unlike adoption, permanent guardianship does not terminate the parents’ rights. Parents can petition to terminate the guardianship if their circumstances change.
If the parents’ rights have been terminated by the state, the grandparent can pursue adopting their grandchild. This permanently transfers all legal rights from the parents to the grandparent. It is a much more difficult process than obtaining guardianship, but ensures the grandparent will remain the child’s legal guardian even after turning 18.
The Guardianship Process
Here is an overview of what to expect when petitioning the court for permanent legal guardianship of your grandchild:
Consult an attorney
Guardianship laws vary by state. Meet with a local family law attorney to discuss your options and ensure you take the right legal steps. The attorney can help you file the petition and represent you at court hearings.
You will need to file a petition with the family court in your county requesting guardianship. The petition should explain why the parents are unfit or unable to care for the child and why guardianship is in the child’s best interest. Filing fees apply.
Notify the parents
The parents must be notified that you are requesting guardianship unless their rights were already terminated by the state. The court will send them official notice requiring their presence at the hearing.
Complete background checks
The court will do a background check and home study to ensure you are fit to care for the child. They will evaluate your physical and mental health, criminal history, income, and living environment.
Attend the hearing
You will have to appear in court and testify why the parents are unfit and why you should be appointed guardian. The parents can contest the petition at the hearing. The judge will issue a ruling.
If approved, you will receive legal documentation naming you the child’s guardian. As guardian you are now responsible for the child’s living expenses, medical needs, education, etc.
Get financial assistance
Look into financial assistance programs for guardians, such as relative foster care payments, social security dependent benefits if the parent is disabled, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or subsidies for adopting children out of foster care.
Being a Guardian – What’s Involved
As guardian, you have a tremendous responsibility for your grandchild’s wellbeing. Here are some key things to understand:
You are now responsible for your grandchild’s living arrangements, food, clothing, supervision, and transportation – everything a parent typically handles. Make sure you have the time, energy, and resources to provide a stable home life.
You will enroll your grandchild in school and make educational decisions. Meet with teachers and counselors regularly to monitor progress and address any special needs. Have legal paperwork available in case the school requires proof of guardianship.
Make medical appointments and consent to any necessary medical treatment. Keep all health records up to date. Look into public health insurance options like Medicaid if the child is uninsured. Manage any long-term health conditions.
Legally, you are now responsible for the child’s best interests in judicial matters. You may need to hire an attorney to represent you in court if there are disputes over guardianship arrangements.
You have authority to make reasonable disciplinary rules regarding behavior, curfews, chores, etc. Use positive reinforcement and age-appropriate discipline. Never resort to physical punishment or verbal abuse.
Use the child’s money (social security benefits, etc.) responsibly for their needs. Track any child support money from the parents. Look into public assistance programs and tax benefits for guardians. Set up college and life insurance funds.
If possible, gently encourage the child keeping in touch with parents and relatives. Make visitation compromises if it is safe. Keep communication open. Seek counseling if needed.
Taking guardianship of a grandchild is a major life change. Although challenging, caring for your grandchild full-time can be very meaningful. Consult legal resources, utilize support programs, and work closely with healthcare/education providers to give your grandchild a stable home. With patience and love, you can make a positive difference in their life.