If a child’s parents are no longer fit to care for them, California law lets courts appoint a person as the child’s legal guardian. This may happen due to the parents’ death or if they abuse, neglect, or abandon the child.
Legal guardianship differs from adoption as any living parent retains certain parental rights when the court names a legal guardian. This is considered a suspension of the parents’ rights. In the case of adoption, the parents’ parental rights are terminated before the court can finalize the adoption process.
Working with a reputable family law attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations as a legal guardian as you are now responsible for many aspects of the child’s life until they are no longer a minor.
Custody and Fundamental Responsibilities
As the child’s legal guardian, you gain physical and legal custody. You have the right to decide where the child lives, usually with you. If you need to make living arrangements outside of your home or are planning to relocate with the child, you need to demonstrate to the court that your decision is in the child’s best interests.
Having child’s custody also means that you have fundamental responsibilities such as:
- Providing food and clothing
- Safety and protection
You also need to provide a supportive environment with physical, emotional, and social growth opportunities for the child.
The legal guardian must meet the child’s medical needs from preventative healthcare to emergencies. If the child needs to have a physical evaluation to engage in sports or school physical education courses, you also need to take the child to an appropriate doctor.
If the child is 14 years or older, they may need or have the opportunity to provide consent for:
- Mental health treatments
- Health services related to pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
- Drug and alcohol rehabilitation
The child’s education is another important aspect of your duties as a legal guardian. You can decide where the child goes to school and need to show up to parent-teacher events. You play an active role in their education to find opportunities that serve their interests and future.
If your child has specific educational needs, you also need to help them find appropriate resources to reach their learning goals. This may involve contacting community services available where you and/or the child live.
In situations where the minor needs parental consent, you have the authority to provide it if you believe this is a positive development for them. This includes consenting to their application for a driver’s license. If you do so, you have the responsibility to obtain the necessary insurance.
If you consent to the minor enlisting in the military and they enter into active duty, they become emancipated under California law. Emancipation also occurs if you give permission for the minor to enter a valid marriage.
You may have rights and obligations towards the child’s parents depending on your specific situation. The court may grant a child support request and mandate that the parents provide a monthly payment to help support expenses for the child.
The court may also grant visitation rights to the child’s parents, and you have to respect the schedule stated in the court order. This can include supervising the visit for the child’s safety.
Certain counties require “court visitors” to evaluate guardianships. If this applies to you, you need to cooperate with the court representatives and fill out any requested status reports.
A legal guardian is liable for any results from the child’s willful misconduct. Speaking with a lawyer is generally necessary to ensure you have a clear understanding of what is at stake and what your and the minor’s legal options are.
When Does Guardianship End in California?
Legal guardianship usually ends when the child reaches the age of 18, becomes emancipated, or dies. In certain cases, the child, one of their parents, or the legal guardian can petition for the termination of the guardianship. To secure approval from the court, the petitioner must demonstrate that the termination of the guardianship is safe for the minor and in their best interests.
Hire a Family Law Attorney to Understand Your Rights and Obligations as a Legal Guardian
If you are likely to be appointed or are interested in becoming a child’s legal guardian as a stepparent or other adult involved in the child’s life, our team at Cutter & Lax, Attorneys at Law can address any questions or concerns you may have. We have extensive family law experience and have helped our community in the San Fernando Valley for many years.
We are committed to providing personalized legal representation as each person’s situation is unique. Finding a solution that benefits all parties involved and serves the child’s best interests. You can expect compassionate counsel and open communication throughout the legal process.
Are you looking for a family law attorney with experience in legal guardianship in the San Fernando Valley? Contact Cutter & Lax, Attorneys at Law today at (818) 839-2533 to schedule a consultation!