A guardianship grants a non-parent certain rights to provide care and custody of a child. Guardians of a minor can be granted various powers, including the right to make decisions regarding finances, medical care, education, receipt of government services, employment, etc. The award of these powers comes with a very serious responsibility to act in the child’s best interests. The process to obtain a guardianship of a child is relatively straightforward, but the standard is rather high. In general, the parents must be unable/unfit to provide the necessary care. The person seeking guardianship must file a request in court, stating what powers they wish to obtain for the child, and the reasons why the guardian should be approved. The judge will appoint a guardian ad litem (a lawyer for the child’s interest) and hold a hearing on the request within 90 days. If the judge grants the guardianship, it will generally continue until the parent successfully asks the court to terminate it.
Guardianships are an effective means of providing for a child’s needs if the parents are unable to do so in the short term. They are not as drastic as a request to terminate parental rights, and in some cases can take the place of a child being forcibly removed from the parents’ home by the state. A new law even allows the parents to voluntarily provide authority to other adults/relatives for a limited period of time, without the need for a full guardianship procedure. There are many ways to address children’s needs through a guardianship, and the process need not create conflict between the parent and potential guardian. I have addressed guardianship issues in my practice through Dane, Sauk, and Columbia counties, and I am happy to consult with you on this issue.