Although parental guidance is a necessary component of every child’s life, some children end up without parents. Family members, family friends and individuals hoping to adopt may step in to help. While adoption is the only way to officially become a child’s parent in California, guardianship is a suitable alternative with similar characteristics and rights.
Differentiating between adoption and guardianship
California courts consider adoption and guardianship two entirely separate things. Although they both provide children with at least one parental figure, adoption is more cut-and-dry than guardianship.
A guardian doesn’t assume the role of the child’s sole parent. Rather, the child’s previous parents maintain their parental rights. If asked, the guardian should arrange for in-person meetings or other forms of contact between the child and their parents.
Although courts don’t always do so, judges and social workers can actively supervise guardians. Courts can also ask guardians to step down from their roles if parents regain their ability to care for their children.
With adoption, previous parents never have parental rights. Adoptive parents also never get supervised by courts.
How do courts establish guardianship?
Within the state of California, courts handle guardianship through probate court or juvenile court. Child Protective Services is typically involved in most juvenile court cases. Juvenile dependency court judges may try to find suitable parents for children instead of handing them over to foster care.
In probate court, prospective guardians typically initiate the guardianship process, not Child Protective Services or any other government agency. Family members of parentless children can also ask the court to establish guardianship.
The process of establishing guardianship
Guardianship isn’t a quick and easy legal process. In the Golden State, prospective guardians must fill out at least 10 forms to get started. After filing them with your local court clerk, it’s time to serve certain people and entities with this paperwork. California prevents you from serving these people and organizations yourself; rather, you must find another adult to give them the guardianship documents.
Depending on your situation, you must notify the child’s parents, their legal custodians, grandparents, siblings, half-siblings and the local human services agency. If you’re not biologically related to the child, you must also mail notice to the California Department of Social Services.
After getting these recipients to sign consent forms and waivers of notice, it’s time to reach out to the local court investigator. From here, the court schedules a hearing, and the judge hands down their decision.
Although it’s a long process, establishing guardianship can give a needy child the parental figure they need. If you have questions about the process, a lawyer may offer guidance at every step.