How Do Stepparents Become Legal Guardians?

Benefits of Becoming a Legal Guardian

In the U.S., it is becoming increasingly more common for families to be blended, which means that at least one of the parents or spouses have children from a previous relationship. In fact, according to The Stepfamily Foundation, the majority of families have actually shifted from the original biologically bonded mother, father, and child. For families in this situation, there are many benefits to having the stepparent become the legal guardian of the child who is not theirs biologically. Becoming a guardian has some important benefits that are not able to be accessed in any other way, including:

  • Security

After an individual is named guardian, they will be able to provide for the child in the future. As a guardian, they would have the same legal responsibilities as a parent and be able to take part in decisions that relate to the child’s welfare and upbringing. This also means the guardian is responsible for negligent supervision of the child, but it also provides an additional level of security for a loving stepparent. For example, if the biological parent they are married to were to pass away, this would prevent them from losing the right to be involved in the child’s life.

  • Legal rights

A guardian has the right to make financial, medical, and other decisions on behalf of the child. Having a guardian who is responsible for these matters creates a sense of stability for the child. A guardianship remains in effect until the child turns 18 years old.

  • Social benefits

The child is likely to find themselves in many situations that require a parent or a legal guardian to authorize or sign a form. Having a legal guardian can be a great relief to a child because they will not need to jump through additional hoops in order to get the confirmations needed to live their lives as usual. Becoming a legal guardian to a stepchild is also a powerful, tangible way to show a stepchild they are loved. It can be difficult for a child to accept the devotion of a stepparent, but a legal guardianship will assure them that the stepparent is in it for the long haul.

From Stepparent to Legal Guardian: How Does a Stepparent Assume This Responsibility?

Contrary to what many assume, being a stepparent does not automatically make you a legal guardian. Even if you marry one of the parents of a child, the rights over the child remain with both natural parents after a separation or divorce and only transfer to a stepparent if legal action is taken. In terms of the law, a stepparent has no legal authority over a child simply because they are their stepparent. The courts tend to prefer a biological relative when deciding the guardianship of a child, but there is still hope for stepparents to change these circumstances by legally assuming guardianship.

One of the simplest steps towards gaining a sense of agency in your stepchild’s welfare is through a stepparent power of attorney. The reason this step is so simple is because it only requires one parent to give an in loco parentis power of attorney to a stepparent. Although this only requires action by one parent, it is important because it gives a stepparent the right to consent to medical treatment for their stepchild. This can be extremely convenient and can work to protect the safety of the child. For example, if the stepchild is in the stepparent’s care and becomes injured by some kind of accident, the stepparent would be able to get them the medical care they need.

Beyond the rights to make medical and certain educational decisions, the power of attorney for a stepparent does not extend much further. Stepparents who want to assume the full rights and responsibilities of their stepchildren will have to go through the following process, and the family lawyers at Cutter & Lax Attorneys at Law can help:

  • Get a guardianship form from the clerk’s office.

A guardianship form is a set of court forms that can be used in the case of a medical illness, accident, or death. These forms can determine who will care for a minor, and they are also called a Petition of Guardianship. This little form will be your first step on the journey to guardianship.

  • Complete the form and attach necessary documentation.

When you complete these forms, it is essential that you do not leave any boxes unchecked. You want to be as honest as possible; doing so will help produce the most favorable outcomes for your case.

  • File the petition and send a copy to the biological parent.

After completing the form, it is necessary to file it with the same clerk where you picked up the form, pay a filing fee, and send a copy of the form to the biological parent. It is at this point that the court will determine how fit you are to be a guardian. Our team will make sure you are presenting accurate information in a positive way. This will play a crucial role in determining whether or not guardianship is in your future.

  • Go to the hearing.

The clerk assigns a judge to the case, who will schedule a hearing. The most common parties to attend are the potential future guardian, the spouse, the biological parent, and sometimes, the stepchild. The judge might also request a private meeting with the child to discuss their wants and needs and form an understanding of their best interest. At this point, if the judge agrees with your right to become the legal guardian, they will issue a guardianship order. Our team will be on your side every step of the way, and we will work diligently to produce the most favorable outcome for your family.

If you are interested in learning more about legal guardianship, or need support for other family law matters, call Cutter & Lax Attorneys at Law at (818) 839-2533 or contact us online.

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