What does it mean to be the Guardian of a Child?
The guardian of a child is someone who is not the parent of a child, who is granted custody and care of the child in the place of the child’s parents. Most often, a guardian is a relative of the child, like an uncle or grandparent, though the law does not require that the person appointed as the guardian must be a relative. Guardianship is established by the Court, on the petition of either the person who wants to be the guardian or on the petition of the parents. A legal guardian of a child has all the same responsibilities to care for the child as a parent, including providing a home for the child, food and shelter, ensuring the child’s education, taking the child for necessary medical treatment, and receiving any state benefits the child might be eligible for and using them to care for the child. A legal guardian can be appointed by the Court either with the parents’ consent or without it, and guardianship is established by the Court’s determination that it would be best for the child to be placed in the care of someone who is not his parents. A child over the age of fourteen (14) must be given notice of guardianship proceedings, and can nominate someone to be his guardian. The relevant statutes on establishing guardianship of a child can be found beginning at 30 Oklahoma Statutes, Section 2-101.
Unlike a parental relationship, the guardian is appointed by the Court and must report back to the Court on his or her actions. As guardian, you will have to make reports to the Court, and the Court can order you to do specific things (for example, send the child to one school or another, or have certain medical procedures even if you don’t personally believe in them). If the child has any property which is worth more than $10,000, you must also report to the Court your plan for financial management and your management of the child’s finances.
Guardianship can be temporary or permanent, and generally a Court will appoint a guardian temporarily at first, and then that person has to petition the Court to have the guardianship made permanent. Guardianship can be made permanent, but a number of conditions must be met, including the termination of the parents’ rights and the determination that the child is “deprived” as defined by the law. Additionally, the person wishing to make the guardianship permanent will have to explain to the Court why adoption is not a better option, and the guardian will be required to report back to the Court for review periodically.
What if I need to be the Guardian of an Adult?
Sometimes, adults get sick, become injured, or suffer from mental decline in old age, and they need someone to take care of them. If you know an adult and are worried about their ability to take care of themselves, you can be appointed as that person’s guardian.
The guardian for an adult has the same responsibilities as a guardian for a child. You have to provide a home, food, and clothing for them and provide for their medical care and treatment. In addition, the guardian for an adult has the responsibility to take care of the person’s finances and assets. This might mean paying their bills and taking care of their bank accounts, and it might mean selling off their home and other property in order to have money to provide for them. Whatever it is that you plan to do, you will need to present your plan to the Court and get the Court’s permission. Your plan will need to be reviewed periodically by the Court to show that you are not wasting their money or taking anything from their assets that shouldn’t be taken, and to show that they are in a safe environment and their needs are being met. As the guardian of an adult, you may have to make difficult medical decisions for that person, and the Court can be asked to intervene if you are unsure.
What Would Someone need to get Guardianship, and Why Would an Attorney Help?
In order to be appointed as the guardian of a child, you need to establish with the Court that it is in the best interest of the child to be placed in your care. This may include getting a background check and home inspection performed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, or taking other actions before the child is placed with you. You might have to prove that the parents are unfit, if they do not consent to the guardianship. The parents will need to be given notice that you have filed a Guardianship Petition, and will be entitled to attend any hearings on the guardianship of their child and to contest you being appointed as their child’s guardian.
In many cases, the parents initially consent to guardianship, but then change their minds at some point during the proceeding. Or one parent consents to guardianship, but the other does not. In these cases, it is crucial to have an attorney to help you to present your best case to the Court and to help you to show the Court that it is in the best interest of the child to be placed with you instead of with his or her parents.
In order to be appointed as the guardian of an adult, you will need to prove that the adult person is incapacitated and is not able to manage their own health, finances, house, or safety. You have to show that there is some risk to their well-being if they continued on their own, and you have to show the Court that you have a plan for how to take care of them once you are appointed as their guardian. An attorney can help you to take these steps and can walk you through the process to be sure that your adult relative is taken care of in the best way possible.
What do I do next?
In order to best assist you in the preparation of your case, it would help if we knew as much as possible about the child or the adult in need of guardianship, and what brought them to the point of needing a guardianship. You can help us with this by writing a narrative of four to five pages in length with a concise description of who, what, when, where, and why before we meet for the first time. Having your story, in your own words, will help us in understanding the facts and law on point. If there are any documents relating to the case, gather those up and bring them with you as well.
Writing a thorough narrative will help both you and your lawyer to understand your case better, and will assist you in getting your story straight. This saves time and legal fees, and also helps us to work with you and determine what the best course of action would be to protect your rights and the interests of the child or adult in need of guardianship.
Once I have guardianship, can I lose it?
People who are appointed guardians of children are subject to periodic review by the Court. If the Court finds at any time that you are not acting in the best interest of the child, or that you have disobeyed any order of the court relating to the care of the child, you can lose guardianship of that child.
Additionally, the parents can petition to end the guardianship, and if they can prove that the circumstances leading to the appointment of a guardian have changed or been resolved, then the guardianship can be terminated by the Court.
Guardianship of a child will naturally terminate once the child reaches the age of eighteen, and a child who is over fourteen has the right to nominate his own guardian, so the child you become guardian of might decide that he would like a different person to be his guardian once he reaches that age.
You can lose guardianship of an adult if another person proves that you are abusing the guardianship, or if the Court finds out that you are abusing the guardianship during a review. For example, if you are using that adult’s money to take care of yourself and not the person you are supposed to be caring for, you may lose guardianship. You can also lose guardianship of an adult if that adult regains legal competence (for example, if she gets better after a long illness and is now able to take care of herself and make her own decisions). Both of these situations will require court hearings to determine whether a guardian is still necessary and whether you are the appropriate person to act as guardian.
Where would we meet?
We generally meet with clients in our office. If there is a reason you cannot make it to our office during regular business hours, we can communicate with you by telephone and by e-mail, and get your documents by e-mail. We can send you documents to review and sign by mail and by e-mail and can meet you at the courthouse before your hearings to talk to you about what to expect and to answer any questions that you have.
Why should I choose your firm?
Our firm has over 30 years combined courtroom experience trying guardianship cases and we know what to do to help you resolve your problem. The law of guardianship allows the Court a great amount of latitude in determining who gets the children. Having a well-prepared case is very important in getting the Court to see things your way.