Child Custody Frequently Asked Question #4
A family member asked me to be a legal guardian for her children because she is having some serious problems and cannot care for them, but I’m not sure exactly what that means. Can you explain?
Legal guardianship is one of the options available to parents who are planning for the care of their children in their absence due to a variety of situations, such as illness or incarceration. Generally speaking, it allows parents to designate a caregiver and to give the caregiver certain legal rights regarding that care. In most cases, the parents’ legal rights are not terminated and they still play a role in their children’s lives. As the legal guardian, you would have custody of the children, and you would have the authority to make decisions regarding the protection, education, care and discipline, etc.
Legal guardianship is assigned by a court, such as the family court, in each State according to State laws. You may want to consult with and/or retain the services of an attorney who practices in the area of family law in your State. If you need assistance in locating and/or paying for an attorney, the American Bar Association (ABA) provides a lawyer referral service at http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/lris/directory/home.html (scroll to the bottom of the page for a map of the U.S. which links to local resources) and the Consumers’ Guide to Legal Help at http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/home.cfm provides pro bono attorney referrals and more. In addition, the ABA website at http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.... may also be of assistance, especially to anyone needing free legal help. This site provides links to: free, State legal hotlines for individuals to call and speak to a lawyer; pro bono services for special populations; “unbundled" legal services (which means that individuals can handle part of the legal work themselves to save costs); and links to legal forms.
The Federal government does not have the authority to intervene in individual, personal child custody issues; these are family law matters that fall under the jurisdiction of State and local courts, according to State laws.
To learn more about the types of guardianship options available, you may wish to visit the website of Child Welfare Information Gateway, an information and referral service of the Children’s Bureau, at http://www.childwelfare.gov/permanency/guardianship.cfm.