There’s a lot to consider when you take on the legal guardian of a child. In California, a guardian is a person other than a child’s biological parent who accepts legal responsibility for a child.
We’ve provided some essential information to help guide you step-by-step through the process of establishing a guardianship of a child. There are many responsibilities, including time and financial obligations, in establishing guardianship of a child. In some cases, when the biological parents are still living, they can have visitation rights or are still financially responsible for the child. Most cases, however, require you to take on all of the responsibilities of a parent. Take time to carefully consider the questions below before establishing a guardianship of a child:
- Am I ready to accept full liability for the child’s actions?
- Do I want the continuous responsibilities of legal guardianship?
- What will be the continued relationship with the parents?
- How will the guardianship affect my own family, health, job, and life overall?
Filing Court Papers
The first step in establishing guardianship of a child is by filing court papers. California has produced some fill-in-the-blank guardianship forms, making the process of requesting custody straightforward and easy. There are less than a dozen papers to complete, and they are free through the court clerk’s office. Once the paperwork is complete, you must file it at the Supreme Court in the county where the child legally resides. Court papers will include a petition stating your interest in obtaining guardianship and a letter of consent from the child’s parents if they’re alive. Consult with the county clerk on the current filing fee (it does change), or fill out a waiver application if you cannot afford the filing fee.
If the child is 12 years of age or older, he/she must receive a copy of the guardianship papers in person. The child’s grandparents or any siblings must receive a copy of the paperwork by mail. If you are not related to the child, the county’s human or social services and the California Department of Social Services must also receive a copy of the paperwork by mail. The purpose of the notice is to allow interested individuals the opportunity to contest your request. The paperwork must be delivered before the court hearing during a specific time. Anyone associated with the case, like you, is not allowed to deliver or mail the paperwork. It must be mailed by someone over 18 years of age, not associated with the case. This deadline is usually outlined in the court documents.
Once you’ve filed your petition, the court will set up interviews with you and possibly the child, the child’s parents, and anyone else who may have legal custody or have an interest in the child’s well-being. The investigator will likely do a home visit and may review the child’s school and medical records. The investigator will also conduct a background check on you and any other persons who live with you. After the investigation, a report will be prepared for the judge in your case. The report includes a recommendation as to whether the court should grant your request to be the child’s guardian. The judge is not bound to make a recommendation based on the investigator’s report.
After reviewing all the facts, the court will grant you legal guardianship of the child if it’s in the best interest of the child. Most states require you to sign an oath stating that you accept the responsibilities of guardianship. Once the judge approves your guardianship petition, they’ll give you an order to establish guardianship.
If you find the laws and process confusing, we can help. Woodman & Garcia-Sepulveda, WSG, is a family law firm that has experience in all legal family matters and can help provide you with the best care and knowledge to make your guardianship process as easy as possible.