A guardianship is a grant of legal rights to a non-parent of a child. It allows the non-parent to take certain actions, such as authorizing medical treatment, applying for social services, school enrollment, etc., and to obtain “care and custody” of the child. The appointed guardian does not necessarily take the place of the parent, and the parent’s rights are not removed or terminated. Guardianships are often requested when a parent is missing or unable/unwilling to care for a child, and they allow the guardian to arrange for the child’s needs until/if the parent becomes able to do so. Because parents have a fundamental right to care of their children, guardianships are not easily granted. The parent generally must be found unfit to some degree.
A person requests a guardianship by filing a petition and several other documents with the court. A hearing on the guardianship request is held very quickly to ensure that the child’s care and safety is addressed promptly. In my experience, there are two main issues that create problems for potential guardians: failure to complete and serve the proper documents, and failure to prepare evidence at the hearing. Although the potential guardian may have very good reasons for protecting the child, it is vital that evidence is prepared and presented according to court rules. The rules are often confusing to non-lawyers.
Judges in Dane, Columbia, and Sauk counties can be somewhat reluctant to grant guardianship petitions. Their approaches to rules of evidence can also vary. Because the safety and well-being of a child is at stake, potential guardians should always retain an experienced lawyer to represent them. At the same time, any parent faced with a petition for guardianship of his/her child should also obtain an attorney to ensure their rights are properly respected. I have experience representing parents and non-parents in guardianship matters, and I would be happy to speak to anyone facing this issue.