These days, it’s not unusual for grandparents to end up raising their grandchildren. They take on this responsibility for a number of reasons—but in many cases it means that their sons or daughters are, at least temporarily, unable to care for their own children.
An intervention: Daughter unable to provide a stable home for child
Several months ago one such couple, Joe and Sarah, came in to our office seeking more information about getting a Guardianship for their ten-year old granddaughter, Zoe. As their only grandchild, they’d always been very close to Zoe, and now they were concerned about her wellbeing.
Zoe lived with her single mother, Sandra, our clients’ daughter, who had been in and out of rehab facilities but was never able to remain clean and sober or hold a job for an extended period of time. Joe and Sarah were concerned about the lack of stability and consistency for Zoe; they were also concerned about the constant exposure to drugs, alcohol and Sandra’s friends.
It was not their intention to replace their daughter, and they knew that Zoe and Sandra had a very strong bond, which they knew was important. They wanted, however, to provide a safe, stable home and the opportunities that their daughter couldn’t afford. While they loved their daughter, repeated efforts to help had not been effective and their concern now was for their granddaughter.
The difference between a Guardianship and adoption
A Guardianship is a legal relationship between a minor child and a guardian that gives the guardian certain rights and obligations regarding the child. A Guardianship does not sever the legal relationship that exists between a child and his/her biological parents; rather, it coexists with that legal relationship. In this case, depending on the ruling of the court, Zoe and her mother would continue to see each other, though the time they spend together may be limited or monitored, at least at first.
An adoption, on the other hand, permanently alters the legal relationship between a child and his/her biological parents. Adopted parents become the legal parents, and biological parents give up all parental rights and obligations.
Becoming Guardians of the Person: the same responsibilities as a parent
We helped this couple prepare the legal documents to become legal Guardians of the Person for Zoe. A Guardian of the Person has the same responsibilities as a parent: full legal and physical custody of the child. A Guardian is responsible for:
- Food, clothing and shelter
- Safety and protection
- Physical and emotional growth
- Medical and dental care
- Education and any special needs
Acting in the best interests of the child
The court will look at what is in the best interests of the child to make sure the child is raised in a secure environment. A legal guardian typically steps in to care for a child when the parent is unable to, but the parent(s) still has parental rights and is allowed to have reasonable contact with the child, though depending on the circumstances, this may be monitored. The courts supervise the Guardian and can terminate a Guardianship if parents can demonstrate that they are able to resume care of their child.
Different kinds of events typically trigger the end of a Guardianship:
- The death of the child.
- The child reaches the legal age of majority, typically 18 in most states.
- A judge determines that a Guardianship is no longer necessary or beneficial for the child.
- 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 their Guardianship, at which point the court will appoint a new guardian.