Sometimes parents are either unable—or unwilling—to care for their child. In these situations, it might be necessary for the court to appoint another adult to carry out their responsibilities.
This adult/child relationship is referred to as a “guardianship.” If the situation is an emergency, the court will assign someone to be a child’s “temporary guardian,” until a permanent guardianship can be arranged.
Here’s what you need to know about temporary guardianship in California, how it differs from other forms of guardianship, and what the Provinziano team can do to help you with this transition.
What is a Guardian?
A “guardian” refers to an outside adult who has been assigned to care for and make decisions on behalf of a child. This person has been given either some (or all) of a parent’s legal and/or physical custodial powers, and is responsible for meeting that child’s needs while under their care.
Guardianships can be appointed over a child’s estate, over the child, or over both at the same time. A guardian is often needed when a child’s parents are deceased, or when they are unfit to care for the child.
In California, there are three main types of guardianships:
- Informal guardianship
- Temporary guardianship
- Permanent guardianship
1. Informal Guardianship
In an informal guardianship, an outside adult takes responsibility for a child’s physical care, but does not have the legal authority to make important decisions.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably done this more than you realize—just think of all the times you left your child at daycare, with a nanny, or at their grandparent’s house. These are all micro examples of how an informal guardianship works. In these situations, an outside adult had temporary authority to care for your child’s physical needs, but no legal power.
2. Temporary Guardianship
Temporary guardians, on the other hand, do have legal authority. These individuals are appointed in emergency situations when a child has an immediate need for adult care.
There are several reasons a California court might grant a temporary guardianship. For example:
- The child is not receiving needed (and immediate) medical treatment.
- The child has been prevented from attending school.
- The child’s parents are underage.
- The child’s parents are recently deceased.
- The child’s parents have been incarcerated.
Temporary guardianships usually don’t last longer than six months. This arrangement ensures that a child’s immediate needs are being met, while allowing the court the time they need to arrange a permanent guardianship.
3. Permanent Guardianship
Once enacted, a permanent guardianship will last all the way up until the child turns eighteen, or until a judge grants a Petition to Terminate.
During this time, a guardian assumes the role of a child’s parent, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities. This means full legal and physical custody, with the power to make decisions about:
- Living arrangements
- Education choices
- Medical treatment
- Social and cultural exposure
A legal guardian is also responsible for meeting the child’s daily needs, providing for their care, and ensuring that they follow any court ordered mandates (such as attending counseling).
Not the Same Thing as Adoption
While they cover many of the same rights and responsibilities, legal guardianships (whether temporary or permanent) are not the same thing as adoption.
In an adoption, the full mantle of parental rights, duties, and obligations shift from a child’s biological parents, to an outside adult. Once complete, adoption is permanent, and completely alters a child’s family tree, requiring a new birth certificate, and altering the lines of inheritance.
In contrast, guardianships are temporary. Even when they are “permanent,” the process does not affect the child’s biological parentage, and the decision can always be reversed.
Who Can Become a Temporary Guardian?
You do not have to be related to a child to become their guardian. According to California family law, you simply must be at least eighteen years old, have good cause for the request, and be capable of taking on the responsibility.
How to File for Temporary Guardianship in California
To become a temporary guardian, you’ll need to fill out all the temporary guardianship forms and file them with the clerk. You will also need to complete the paperwork for a permanent guardianship.
This is because temporary guardianship is an emergency order, and only lasts until the court can make permanent arrangements. One typically precedes the other, and hence, both sets of paperwork are required.
To become a guardian, you should:
- Fill out your paperwork.
- Review your forms with a family law facilitator.
- File your forms with the clerk.
- Give notice to relatives via proper service.
- File proof of service with the court.
- Collect consent waivers from agreeing parties.
- Complete a home study with a court investigator.
- Attend your hearing.
- Receive a final order from the judge.
- File your court order with the clerk.
- Submit annual status reports to the court.
As a legal guardian, you will have full legal and physical custody over the child until they turn eighteen, or until someone files a Petition to Terminate with the court.
Alternatives to Legal Guardianship
Temporary guardianship refers to a situation where a child has an immediate—sometimes emergency—need for court intervention. However, there are plenty of other situations when a parent might want to voluntarily grant this authority (say, if they had to be deployed overseas).
In these situations, a legal guardianship might not be the best situation, since they are difficult to reverse, and require court involvement.
Instead, it’s sometimes easier for parents to initiate an informal guardianship, and grant temporary decision-making authority using one of the following alternatives.
Power of Attorney
This legal document grants an outside adult the power to make decisions for a child when their parents are unable to do so. In order to be valid, it must be signed and notarized, and either parent can cancel at any time.
Caregiver’s Authorization Affidavit
This allows a caregiver to enroll the child in school and to make medical decisions. However, if they aren’t a relative, this adult can only make medical decisions that are related to school.
An affidavit is not an official court order, and can be canceled at any time.
A private agreement between parent and caregiver must be in writing, mention the caregiver by name, and should grant custody of the child with parental consent. This document is convenient and can be revoked at any time. However, some agencies might not acknowledge the legality of a private agreement.
If you are unsure which of these alternatives is right for you, the best thing to do is speak with an experienced family law attorney.
Do You Need Help with Temporary Guardianship in California?
A legal guardianship might not be as permanent as adoption; however, it still comes with a lot of responsibility. This decision will have a significant impact—not only your life—but on the life of your charge, as well, which is why it’s so important to have a family law attorney you can trust.
For more questions about temporary guardianship in California—and whether it’s right for your situation—we want to hear from you. Call Provinziano & Associates at (310) 237-6179, or get in touch online, and let us help you navigate this important decision with as little stress as possible.