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One family law issue that is of vital social importance is child guardianship. While a child’s natural parents are the first and primary legal guardians of a child, non-parents can be granted legal guardianship of minor children in special situations through a court process called probate guardianship. If you need assistance with a child guardianship or another custody issue, the San Diego guardianship lawyers at Doppelt and Forney, APLC can assist you.Circumstances When Children Need a Legal Guardian Other than a Parent
There are two types of child guardianship: guardianship of the person and guardianship of the estate. Guardianship of the person involves taking care of the physical needs of the child, including providing a home, education, medical care, protection, and the other support and care involved in raising the child. It arises in situations in which a child is unable to live with the child’s natural parents due to issues such as:
- The death of one or both parents;
- Physical abuse or neglect of the child by one or both parents, or by someone cohabitating with one or both parents;
- One or both parents suffering from a serious physical or mental illness or disability that renders them incapable of taking care of the child;
- The absence of one or both parents, such as when a parent serves abroad in the military or is incarcerated; or
- One or both parents having a substance abuse problem.
A guardianship case can arise out of a request by a parent (for example, a single-parent member of the armed services being called to active duty), or it can arise when a person wishing to become a child’s guardian (because of one of the above situations) files a guardianship action.
Guardianship is not adoption, but it does give the guardian the legal right to make fundamental decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, just as a parent would, including where to attend school, in which activities the child may engage, which medical procedures the child may receive, and so on, until the child reaches the age of majority. A guardianship attorney can explain to San Diego residents the differences between a guardianship and an adoption.
Guardianship does not terminate a natural parent’s parental rights; parents still may be entitled to reasonable contact with the child. In addition, a court will supervise the guardianship, and it may terminate the guardianship, particularly if the court determines that the child and their parents may be reunified.
Courts may appoint anyone to be a guardian, including relatives, such as older siblings, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, as well as friends of the family or foster parents.
By contrast, a guardianship of the estate arises in cases in which a child has significant assets but lacks the capacity to manage those assets responsibly, such as when a minor child inherits or receives valuable property. Parents can serve as guardians of the estate, and a San Diego guardianship attorney can advise them on when this may be appropriate.
The same person may be a guardian of both the person and the estate, or two separate guardians may serve this purpose. For example, if parents die leaving a minor child with significant assets, a court may appoint the grandparents as legal guardians of the person but appoint someone else to manage the child’s inheritance.
A guardian of the estate has a legal duty to manage the child’s assets responsibly until such time as the child reaches adulthood to take over the management of the property. The guardian’s responsibility is much like that of a trustee regarding the assets of a trust. They must protect and manage the assets prudently for the benefit of the child, and they may not use them for personal benefit. A guardian of the estate must periodically file accountings with the court regarding management of the estate.Discuss Your Situation with a Guardianship Lawyer in San Diego
Taking on the guardianship of a minor child is an important responsibility. Whether you are seeking guardianship of someone else’s child or are a parent whose child is the subject of a guardianship action, you need to understand the court process as well as what your rights and responsibilities are. For assistance with a child guardianship matter, or with other issues related to child custody or support, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC, at 800.769.4748 or online to set up a free in-person or virtual consultation. We serve clients in San Diego and surrounding communities, including Chula Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, La Jolla, Point Loma, Coronado, Del Mar, Ramona, El Cajon, and La Mesa.