Guardianship

Below are some answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding guardianship of a minor:

Q. Who or what is considered a guardian?

A. Guardian refers to someone who takes care of a child's needs. Such as shelter, education, food, medical care and they usually manage the child's finances.

Q. How do guardianships differ from adoptions?

A. A guardianship is a legal relationship between a minor child and a guardian that gives the guardian certain rights and obligations regarding the child. However, guardianship does not sever the legal relationship that exists between a child and their biological parents. Guardianship co-exists with the legal relationship of the biological parents. As opposed to adoption which permanently alters the legal relationship between a child and their biological parents. Adopted parents become the legal parents and biological parents give up all parental rights and obligations. This means that biological parents no longer owe child support, and that the child can no longer automatically inherit from his or her biological parents.

Q. How do guardianships end?

A. Several events typically trigger the end of a guardianship such as (1) the death of the child, (2) the child reaches the legal age of majority (18 in most states); (3) a judge determines that a guardianship is no longer necessary or beneficial for the child; (4) the sole purpose of the guardianship was to manage the child's finances, and the child's financial assets are exhausted. Guardians can also ask a court to be relieved of his or her guardianship, at which point the court will appoint a new guardian.

Q. What does the term "guardian ad litem" mean?

A. Guardians ad litem are court-appointed representatives who stand in the shoes of the minor during court proceedings that involve the minor in some way. This is common in divorces and disputes regarding estates, or any other situation where the court determines that the minor (or incapacitated adult) cannot successfully represent them. It's preferred that the child's close relatives be guardian ad litem, but an attorney may be used as well.

Q. If I'm already a parent, would I ever need to become my child's guardian?

A. Yes, if a child is left something in a person's will, you may need to become the child's guardian. Courts are reluctant to hand over financial assets intended for a child to the child's parents. The concern is that parents will misuse a gift that was intended for the child. By setting up a guardianship you set in place certain obligations to make yourself legally liable for those assets and their management.