Kris’ Corner – What is Guardianship?

June 4, 2020

Continuing in the vein of what happens if a child is not reunified or adopted, today’s subject is Guardianship.  And while it does happen, guardianship is not terribly common within the realm of foster care.

It is, however, something I think many people, at least in their minds, interchange with “Adoption”. But while there are some similarities, and I can totally understand the confusion, they are definitely different beasts.

So let me give you a little bit of a run down on Guardianship. A guardianship legalizes the relationship between an adult who is not the biological parent and a child; it is different from adoption in that it does not sever the legal relationship between the biological parents and the child.  In adoption, the relationship and rights formally and permanently change. The adults who adopt a minor child become the legal parents and take on all the responsibilities and rights of parenthood; any living biological parent ceases to have parental rights and obligations.

In a guardianship, the biological parent does maintain some control and provides financial support; and the biological parents’ reach extends so far that they can (with court approval) have a guardianship ended. Oftentimes, however, guardianships remain in place until a child turns 18; a child passes away; or the court decides the guardianship is no longer necessary.

A judge is the only one who can appoint guardianship; biological parents can not “sign over” guardianship to another adult. They can, however, give their consent to a guardianship. A judge often will take a parent’s wishes into consideration when granting a guardianship, but the judge will make the final determination based on the child’s best interest.

So at this point, you might be wondering what children would even need a guardianship? The children who might need to have a guardianship can include, but are not limited to those with the following situations:

  • One or both biological parents are in jail or prison;
  • One or both biological parents have offenses in child abuse and/or domestic violence;
  • One or both biological parents are in alcohol or drug rehab;
  • One or both biological parents are unable to care for the children due to mental health issues.

Now I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like many of the children placed in foster care. And you would be correct. But in foster care, a child has been removed from the biological parents and is a ward of the court; the court makes the critical decisions for the child. For example, surgeries or medical procedures, traveling or vacations, or any major life decision must all be approved by the court; additionally the court ensures that the child is financially cared for via the per diem, birthday and holiday gift allowances, and initial “arrival into care” stipend. There is no such support in a guardianship.

And that, in a nutshell, is Guardianship.