A guardian is a person who is responsible for the care and welfare of another person. In the case of children, legal guardianship is automatically given to the parents at birth; however, if the parents are deceased or found unfit to care for their child, guardianship is given to another person.
Besides parents, there are two types of legal guardians for minor children: subsidized and standby.
• Subsidized guardians include foster parents, who are given financial assistance to pay for the needs of the child for whom they are caring.
• Standby guardians are chosen by the parents of a child, most often when the parents have a life-threatening illness and are expecting to be unable to care for their child in the near future.
The process of obtaining legal guardianship of a child begins with the filing of a petition. This petition lets the family court know that guardianship is being sought, and will be followed with a request for evidence regarding the filer's fitness to be a guardian. Proof that the parents are deceased or otherwise unable to care for their child will be required, along with proof of a positive and established relationship with the child. The aim of the family court is to do whatever is in the best interest of the child.
Sometimes, a person seeking guardianship will be required to put up a fiduciary bond to cover any liability expenses arising from caring for the child. While this process is taking place, a temporary guardian may be placed to care for the child and serve their interests while a more permanent situation can be established.
Once a person is granted legal guardianship of a child by the court, certified papers evidencing the decision will be sent to the new guardian. It is important to retain these papers for future reference.
There are rights and responsibilities that come with being a legal guardian. The guardian has the same responsibilities as a parent would, meaning they must care for the child, make sure the child obtains an education, and provide a safe home for the child. The guardian retains the right to discipline the child as a parent would.
A guardian is different than an adoptive parent because the parents may still have contact with their child when a legal guardian is caring for them, and the birth parents retain a financial obligation for their child.
Guardianship is not limited to the care of a child; guardians may be placed for adults that do not have the mental capacity to care for themselves. This can include an adult who is incapable of caring for themselves because of mental illness, or can be a parent who suffers from mental deterioration, causing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Guardians may even be placed for an adult who is addicted to alcohol or gambling to the point that they have seriously harmed themselves or their family. If an adult is recklessly spending their estate to the detriment of themselves or family members, a temporary guardian may be placed.
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