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Guardianship of Minors: The Legal Issues

Legal guardianship is an especially important issue because it deals with the welfare of children who are legally determined to be unable to make serious decisions for themselves. For this reason, children’s parents are normally responsible for caring for them and making crucial decisions while they remain minors under the law. However, difficulties arise when the parents are no longer in the picture or when they are not capable themselves of making the decisions involved with raising a child. When this happens, the authority over a child may be transferred to another person with whom the child lives, giving that person legal guardianship over the child. A legal guardian has the legal authority and custody a biological parent would have and can raise the child without interference from biological parents.

Dealing with Legal Guardianship

Legal guardianship is only an issue for minors under the age of eighteen. Once a child turns eighteen, the law determines that the child is now an adult who is capable to make decisions for him or herself. Anyone who is over eighteen can become a legal guardian, and this is how older siblings sometimes become the legal guardians of younger brothers and sisters when the parents die or are otherwise incapacitated as primary caregivers. Typically, it is preferred that legal guardians be relatives or family friends and these people are expected to provide for the child in every way that a loving parent would.

It is possible to live with a relative instead of the biological parents, but without the distinction of legal guardian it is very hard for a relative to meet a child’s needs. For example, things as minor as permission slips for school field trips or as major as medical insurance coverage generally require the distinction and authority of “legal guardian.” If a child only needs the guardianship of someone other than his or her parents for a short period of time, permanently transferring legal parental authority is not necessary. A Caregiver’s Authorization Affidavit can be used to provide a temporary arrangement for meeting a child’s needs when a parent is not available.

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