Guardianship of Children
Guardianships of children can be ordered by judges in Juvenile Dependency Court and Probate Court.
In Juvenile Dependency Court cases, the child may have been removed from the home by a Child Protective Services social worker because there is information that the child is being neglected, abused, or is in danger. The child then lives in a licensed home while several court actions take place.
One such action is to try and reunify the child with his or her parents. If reunification is not successful, a guardian may be appointed for the child. Relatives or friends may be appointed to serve. If appropriate, the guardianship can continue until the child turns 18.
Probate Court Guardianships
In Probate Court guardianships, the child usually lives with the person who is the guardian. The proposed guardian or another person in the child’s life may petition the Court to establish the guardianship for a variety of reasons. The parents of the child may be unable to care for the child due to serious illness, military duty in another country, drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, or death. Unlike Juvenile Dependency Court, the Probate Court suspends, rather than terminates parental rights. A parent, a guardian, or another person can file a petition for termination of a probate guardianship, as can a child who is 12 years old or older.
Guardianship of Children - Self-Help
If you want to ask the Court to establish the guardianship over the person of a child, you may wish to make an appointment with the ACCESS Center and ask for help.
If you already filed for guardianship of the person and need assistance with next steps, the ACCESS Center may be able to help you figure out which relatives to serve (give notice), and the paperwork you are required to send.
If you want to ask the Court to end a guardianship, the ACCESS Center may be able to show you how to fill out the required forms that must be filed.
Probate Guardianship Process
When a petition for probate guardianship of the person, estate, or person and estate is filed, a court investigator personally interviews the child and other significant people in the child’s life. Background screenings are conducted on the proposed guardian and all other adults who live with the child. Once the investigation is completed, the investigator will file a confidential report for the Judge. Sometimes, a Judge will also appoint an attorney to represent the child.
Guardianship Appointment Hearings
When a petition for guardianship is filed, the Court Clerk will provide a court date for the hearing. Guardianship appointment hearings are held on Tuesday afternoons. All petitions for the establishment of a guardianship of the person require the proposed guardian and the proposed ward to attend the court hearing. If the petition seeks to appoint a guardian over the child’s estate only, the proposed guardian must attend and the child’s appearance at the appointment hearing is not required
After a Guardian has been Appointed
Even after a guardian has been appointed, the Probate Court continues to be concerned about the child. Every year, the Probate Court sends a blank Status Report form to the guardian along with a return envelope. Therefore, it is important for guardians to make sure the court has their current contact information. All guardians are required to fill out the annual Status Report with information about how the child is doing. When there is a guardianship of the estate, the guardian is required to account for the child’s assets and is not allowed to spend any of the money in the estate without permission from the Judge.
All children need care and attention. Fortunately, there are people in our community who are willing to step forward and serve as guardians when a child’s parents are not available. The Probate Court participates in this process by appointing guardians for children, by helping make certain that children in guardianships are protected, and by helping guardians get the information they need.