Parents are the natural (and legal) guardians of their children. This means they can decide the daily living issues for their children and the long-term issues. This includes making decisions about their health, well-being, religious upbringing, financial matters, and other issues.
Sometimes, though, a parent is unable to function as a guardian. When one parent can’t take care of his/her child, then normally the other natural parent acts as the sole guardian. Problems can arise, though, when both parents are unable to properly raise a child. The parents may be incarcerated. They may have substance abuse problems. They may be ill. Some parents just aren’t competent. Parents may not be able to raise a child with special needs.
Problems may arise when couples divorce, too. In most cases, the parents negotiate or the court decides which parent(s) will have physical and legal custody. Sometime parents share both types of child custody. Sometimes, though, the parent with sole legal custody may die or may not be able to raise the child. The other natural parent may not be able to raise the child for the reasons identified above.
When parents can’t raise their children, someone needs to be able to step in and raise the children. Otherwise, the children may be forced to live in a foster home or state facility.
Practical reasons for appointing a guardian of a minor child
In addition to providing a home, a family, and daily guidance for a minor child, there are some legal and practical reasons why a child can’t just live with a brother, aunt, grandparent, or even a friend – without guardianship protection.
- Health insurance. The child may need to be on the guardian’s health insurance policy to be covered as a child of the guardian.
- Health treatments. Some hospitals and doctors won’t treat a child unless a guardian consents to the need for treatment.
- Government benefits. A child may not be eligible for SSDI or other benefits through a natural parent or through a guardian, such as SSDI benefits, unless a guardian is appointed.
- Schools. Schools often require the consent of the guardian or parent for the child to engage in certain activities such as special education activities. Financial aid at some schools may be dependent on there being a guardian. Even admissibility to school may depend on where a valid guardian lives.
In Tennessee, anyone other than a natural parent can petition the court to ask to be appointed a child in need’s guardian. Once the court determines that the natural parents are deceased or unable to act as guardians, the court will consider the petition. The court will also consider the guardian petition if the natural parents consent. The court will review the child’s needs, the guardian’s abilities (personal, health, and financial) and then decide based on the child’s best interest.
If the natural parents divorce, the guardianship appointment may need to be reconsidered. A parent who consented to the guardian may withdraw the consent based on the divorce. For example, someone who divorces may remarry into a stronger relationship. The new marriage may help the natural parent decide to be a parent/guardian again.
Guardianships usually end when the child turns 18 years old.
Adoption as another alternative
The guardianship can be revoked if a natural parent withdraws consent or other interested family members have grounds for requesting the guardianship end such as the failure to act in the child’s best interests.
An adoption proceed essentially gives the child a new parent, a new guardian. Some guardians may request the right to adopt a child, especially if it’s clear that the natural parents will never be responsible or are deceased. Grandparents, for example, do ask to be guardians when their own children aren’t responsible.
Adoptions also are common when a natural parent remarries. The new spouse may agree to adopt and care for the child – provided the other natural parent consents or is deceased.
Children need care on a daily basis. They need adults they can rely on. If your child or a relative or friend has a child in need, please phone the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, at 615.412.1121, or fill out our contact form to discuss how guardians for children work. Our family lawyers represent parents, relatives, and children when children need help. We fight for children in Franklin, Columbia, Brentwood, and nearby Tennessee locales.