If you’re thinking about taking on the parental role for a child, even temporarily, it will be important for you to establish guardianship status. Guardianship status conveys some rights to both you and to the child, ensuring that you have legal and medical rights to make decisions on the child’s behalf. Today, we’re going to take a deeper look at what it takes to become a legal guardian in Indiana.
How to Become a Legal Guardian
This process is a lengthy one. To become a legal guardian, certain conditions need to be met:
- The child’s parents need to be willing to make you a legal guardian or be unable to make decisions for their children.
- You will need to get a lawyer’s help in filing the right documents for the court.
- You should have an established relationship with the child.
- You will need to attend a court hearing to determine whether your petition will be accepted.
To prove that you should be a legal guardian, you will need to show that you can take care of the child in question. Everything is up to the discretion of the family court and the family court judge.
Benefits to Being a Legal Guardian
A major mistake many people make is never declaring legal guardian status. A family member such as an aunt or a grandfather might care for a child for the majority of their lives but be overruled on medical decisions or legal decisions regarding that child because they did not file for legal guardianship.
Generally, legal guardianship occurs because the parents of the child are unable or unfit to take care of that child. But legal guardianship can also be extended under less dramatic circumstances; a stepparent, for instance, can become a legal guardian.
There are major benefits to being a legal guardian in Indiana. You will be able to have or share custody of the child and you will have the right to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and well-being.
The Responsibilities of a Legal Guardian
In addition to benefits, a legal guardian has responsibilities. While the child is under your care, you will be responsible for their medical care, education, and everything else. You need to make major decisions on the child’s behalf. You may need to take the child for visitation with their parents or other family members.
Differences Between a Legal Guardian and Adoption
When someone becomes an adoptive parent, they become the actual parents of the child in question. They have all rights and responsibilities associated therewith.
When someone becomes a legal guardian, they are not actually the parents of the child in question. Instead, they have certain rights and responsibilities associated with taking care of the child. However, their relationship will be more similar to long-term babysitting than parenting.
Often, with legal guardianship, the goal is that eventually, the child will go back to their parents. This can happen if their parents are currently ill or in treatment. Otherwise, legal guardianship can be a supplement to parenting; for instance, in the case of a stepparent getting legal guardianship alongside a biological parent.
The Requirements of Being a Legal Guardian in Indiana
Before you can become a legal guardian, there are certain requirements that you must meet. But these requirements are fairly light because it’s actually the court that will decide if legal guardianship makes sense.
To become a legal guardian, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old. You will need to be deemed mentally competent. Ideally, you should not have any legal charges against you, although these alone are not deal breakers.
To the court, the decision of whether you can become a legal guardian is rooted in the child’s best interest and preserving the family unit. If the child can be kept with their family in a safe situation, then that is usually what the court will decide. If the child has already been removed from their family (much more often the case), then the court will decide on whether you and your home is the best option.
What Could Stop You From Becoming a Legal Guardian in Indiana?
There are certain circumstances that could prevent you from becoming a legal guardian in Indiana. Another family member may petition the courts on the basis of having a stronger relationship with the child or a better living condition. For instance, you might be the aunt of a child and want to become their legal guardian. Your parents (their grandparents) might petition the court to become a legal guardian because they believe their life situation to be more stable. It would be up to the courts to make that determination.
The parents may also have appointed someone else as their child’s legal guardian. If there is another individual who has been named the child’s guardian, then this person will have preference over you—unless you can show that this wouldn’t be a stable or safe situation for the child.
If the child is 16 years of age or older, their opinion matters, too. If they choose to stay with their grandparents over their aunt, for instance, the court will consider this. While the court may not always agree with the child, their opinion does factor in.
Finally, if you do have a felony, this is going to be considered. The court will ignore any felonies that don’t seem to have to do with raising a child, but they are going to strongly consider anything that could indicate that you’re an unstable or unsafe home.
Hire a Professional Attorney
Guardianship is complex. It’s inherently a temporary solution, but one that’s very important. If you’re interested in obtaining legal guardianship over a minor, you need professional help. Connect with the professionals at Trapp Law today to find out more.