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Guardianships of Minor Children
Reasons for Obtaining Guardianship of a Minor Child
A judge may appoint a guardian for a minor child when a guardianship appears to be necessary or convenient for the child. There are many reasons that guardianship of a minor child may be necessary or convenient, including:
- The parents are traveling internationally without the child and someone needs to be able to care for the child while the parents are away
- The child is living in a different country than its parents
- Both parents are either dead or incarcerated
- Neither parent is fit to have the child
- The parents have abandoned the child
- The child is disabled and in need of special care
The examples show that there is a range of potential circumstances where someone may need to have guardianship of a minor child. In some cases, a guardianship is only necessary for a very short period of time, but in other cases a child may be in a guardianship during most of the child’s minority. Parents and the guardian may agree that it is necessary for a minor child to have a guardian due to the needs of the child or the inability of the parents to care for the child. A parent can even nominate potential guardians for their minor children in their will in the event of the parent’s death. If the minor child is 14 or older, the child may nominate their guardian. In 2014, Oklahoma passed a special law that allows parents or legal custodians of a child to delegate parental powers for the care and custody of the child to another person. This “Power of Attorney for Care and Custody of Child” can be a substitute for a short-term guardianship of convenience in the event of international travel or other short-term temporary guardianships.
The Process for Obtaining Guardianship of a Minor Child
Sometimes the parents and the person asking to be guardian do not agree that a guardianship is necessary. When a parent does not agree, the non-parent who is seeking guardianship (the petitioner) must prove that the parent is unfit to have the minor child.
To request guardianship of a minor child, a petition for guardianship must be filed in the county where the child lives or where the proposed guardian lives if the proposed guardian is a member of the child’s family. A potential guardian must be a citizen or legal resident of the United States and a resident of Oklahoma for at least a year unless they are a close family member of the minor child. A person seeking guardianship of a minor child must pass a series of background checks. The judge may also require a home study as part of an investigation and report regarding the background and home of the prospective guardian.
What It Means to have Guardianship of a Minor Child
A guardianship is not exactly the same thing as custody. Parents who have custody of their children may also have guardianship of their children when necessary. A guardianship of a minor child can be shared between multiple adults. One person may be responsible for the child’s property, while a different person may have responsibility for the child. Two adults may share co-guardianship of the person and the property of a minor child. Guardians of a minor child who has living parents are entitled to receive child support from the child’s parents.
When a minor child is the subject of a guardianship, the minor child is called the ward. Guardians have special legal duties and responsibilities to their wards. A guardian of property must safely keep the property of the ward with regard to conservation and growth of the property. The guardian may not permit any waste or destruction of the ward’s property or sell the ward's property without permission from the court. Guardians are held to a high standard of conduct for their care of the person and property of their ward. Guardians have to make regular written reports to the court about their management of the ward’s property.
How Does Guardianship of a Minor Child End
Guardianships come to an end for a number of reasons, including:
- When the original need for the guardianship no longer exists
- When a guardian abuses his fiduciary responsibilities for the ward
- When a guardian has a conflict of interest to the guardianship
- When the minor child reaches 18 years old
- When a parent who was determined to be an unfit parent shows that they have changed and are now fit
Guardianships may be necessary for a wide range of circumstances. Some are entered by agreement, and some are highly contested by parents and by potential guardians. Guardianships may be modified or terminated when warranted by the circumstances.