Guardianship of a Child

A child is someone under 18 years of age, not married and not in military service. If a guardian is appointed for a child, the guardianship will usually last until the child is 18 years old.


Who Needs a Guardian?

A legal guardian has the same power as a parent to make decisions for the child. A child may need a legal guardian if the parent is unavailable. For example, the parent dies, is in military service and abroad, was deported but the child remains in the U.S., or is too sick to take care of the child and can't make decisions for the child anymore.

If a child receives money of over $10,000 from someone who has died, life insurance, personal injury settlement, or some other way, a petition for guardianship of the "property" must be filed in Surrogate's Court. The guardian of the property, usually a parent, safeguards the money until the child turns 18 years old. The funds are jointly controlled by the Court and the guardian and no money can be taken out without a court order. For more information, contact your county's Surrogate's Court.


Guardianship of a Child

A guardianship case can be started by filing paperwork called "Petition for Appointment of Guardian" in the county where the child lives. This paper work can be filed in either Surrogate's Court or the Family Court. Both Surrogate's Court and Family Court can appoint a guardian of the person for a child. But, if a child need a guardian of the property then the petition must be filed in Surrogate's Court. The Judge officially appoints someone to be a guardian with a court order called "letters of guardianship" which specifies the type of guardianship.

Before a legal guardian is appointed for a child, both parents and any child over 14 years old and is not mentally, physically or developmentally disabled must give consent. This means that he or she understands what will happen if a legal guardian is appointed for the child. The Court will take into account the child's preferences. In some cases, the Judge will appoint a guardian even if the parent or chid does not give permission or disagree with the guardianship.

A guardian can also be named by the parents or legal guardian of a child in a Will. This person becomes the legal guardian only after the parent dies and the Judge at Surrogate's Court approves the person to be a guardian.

If a parent is sick and will not be able to take care of or make decision for a child in the future, he or she can name a "standby guardian." The standby guardian can be a guardian of the person, a guardian of the property or both. The standby guardian will have the same powers as a guardian but the guardianship will not begin until the parent says it will. For example, the parent may specify that the standby guardianship starts when the parent dies or becomes too sick to take of the children. A standby guardian can be appointed by the Court or by written designation. Contact the Surrogate's Court or Family Court for more information.

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