Family issues have come before American courtrooms for a long time. The first family law court in America was established in 1910.
One of the key functions of the family law system is to ensure that children are looked after appropriately. This is the basis for the doctrine of legal guardianship.
Ideally, a child will be raised by its parents. However, as this is not possible in all cases, legally enforceable decisions must sometimes be made as to the person who is best positioned to look after a child.
Read on as we explain the various features of legal guardianship.
When Are Guardians Appointed?
Generally, guardianship is only necessary when a person is incapable, whether legally or practically, of looking after their own affairs.
Courts can appoint guardians in respect of adults as well as children. This will usually be a person who is unable to make decisions for themselves, such as a disabled person.
Guardians are appointed in respect of children when parents consent to it, when their parental rights are removed by a court, or when both parents are dead or permanently incapacitated.
What Do Guardians Do?
Guardians have duties in relation to both the protected person themselves, and their estate.
Their duties to the person include providing necessities, allowing for education and training, and providing access to appropriate medical treatment where necessary.
In terms of the estate of the protected person, the guardian’s duties are to manage any funds properly, and to spend them in accordance with the protected person’s needs. Guardians must prepare an inventory of assets within 60 days of their appointment to the role.
How Is Guardianship Different Than Custody?
Custody is only granted in respect of children.
Once appointed, a custodian obtains parental rights over the concerned child. Guardianship does not bestow any such rights.
A guardian is appointed to take care of a protected person and look after their estate. Biological parents, where they are alive, retain their parental rights over the child.
Courts intend that the roles of parents and guardians should co-exist.
How to Apply for Guardianship
If you want to become a guardian, you’ll have to file a petition to the court.
A court hearing in respect of your application will be necessary. You’ll have to provide proof (from a doctor, for example) that guardianship is necessary under the circumstances.
Guardianship litigation is never easy, but often necessary. If your guardianship application is proving difficult, it may be best to get a qualified lawyer on your side.
Ensuring a Bright Future in a Troubled Time
Applying for legal guardianship can be a difficult and emotionally demanding process for everyone involved. However, if a vulnerable person can emerge from it with a more promising future, it may be the most rewarding thing you ever do.
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