You’ve probably heard the term “legal guardian.” Do you know exactly what it means?
A legal guardian is a non-parent adult who temporarily takes responsibility for a child, even if the child’s parents still retain their parental rights. A legal guardian addresses the child’s basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter. They also support the child’s access to education and medical care. Their status as a legal guardian ensures they have the standing they need to sign forms and give permission for things that are in the child’s best interests.
Learning About Legal Guardianship in Baltimore
There are many misconceptions about what it means to be a legal guardian, so let’s separate fact from fiction. Here are some important things to know about being a legal guardian in Baltimore.
Fact: A guardianship is not the same as an adoption.
In an adoption, a parent gives up their parental rights and transfers them to another adult. In a guardianship, the parent typically retains their parental rights but agrees that another adult will provide care for their child.
Fact: Regardless of a guardianship, some costs are still the responsibility of the parents.
The legal guardian takes care of the child’s basic needs, like food and clothing, but certain costs, like significant medical costs, may still be the responsibility of the parent. In most cases, even though the legal guardian is providing care and shelter, the parent is often ultimately responsible for the costs involved.
Fact: Some guardianships are short-term and some are open-ended.
A short-term guardianship expires after a limited time, perhaps three months, and is often used as an emergency measure in a crisis. Open-ended guardianships last until certain events occur, including the child reaching the age of adulthood, the child’s or guardian’s death or a judge’s determination that the guardianship is no longer in the child’s best interests.
Understanding When Guardianship is Necessary
There are many situations when it makes sense to establish legal guardianship. If the parent is unable to care for the child due to a medical issue, mental health issue or jail sentence, a legal guardian can step in to help. Often, the legal guardian is a family member or close friend.
Legal guardianship is also an option when a child has significant physical or intellectual limitations and needs help from a certain adult, perhaps because their parent is unable to handle the challenge. The child’s legal guardian helps them access the best care possible.
Occasionally, legal guardianship is established by the child’s parent to protect assets or an inheritance. This keeps it secure until the child is an adult. These types of legal guardianships usually dissolve automatically on the child’s 18th birthday.
Take Cautions When Establishing Guardianships
If you are considering taking legal guardianship of a child, it’s important to give it careful thought first. There are many implications to consider.
First, we would caution you that it’s not a good idea to allow someone else’s child to reside in your home without consulting a lawyer first. If your child’s friend is simply staying for a few days, that’s one thing, but a longer stay – especially if there is tension with the child’s parents – can set off a tricky legal situation.
In addition, it’s important to understand the full impact of legal guardianship on your life and the child’s life. Are you ready to make hundreds of decisions about the child’s well-being, quality of life and future? Are you prepared to make hard choices about their medical care, particularly if they have physical or learning limitations or mental incapacity? Is there another adult who could help the child more?
A family law attorney can help you sort through your options and choose the right path to follow. With your attorney by your side, you can stay within the law to do what’s best for the child.
Have a Legal Question Legal Guardianships in Maryland? We Have Answers.
If you are considering legal guardianship for your child or becoming a legal guardian for a child, the attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law can help you understand Maryland’s family law. We can help you protect your future as you consider your options. Call us at 410-753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our family law attorneys today.