As a family law firm, we know that a legal guardian is defined as a person (or corporation) that is appointed by the court to manage all the affairs of another. You, as a guardian, are tasked with the management of a person’s affairs who has been found unable to handle his or her matters. It is a legal relationship between a competent adult and a minor, or possibly an incapacitated senior or person who is 18 or older and has a disability that causes incapacity.

This legal relationship in many cases involves the guardian of minors, but also can be your adult parent who no longer (for whatever reasons) can manage their life, property, and possessions.

Temporary guardianship and full guardianship (or custody) of the child or adult are similar, but they usually differ in meaning between you and the child or adult. Both guardianships allow one parent or non-parent to make decisions for the other minor or adult. The major difference, of course, is that temporary guardianship is “temporary” and should be approached that way by the guardian and his or her charge. Legally, temporary guardianship requires parental consent, but full guardianship is decided by the courts, themselves.

As a temporary guardian, you would be doing so for a limited time. For example, one or both parents were injured or had to go on a trip without their child. This is usually done in writing, and the courts cannot grant a temporary guardianship, if the parent(s) objects to it.

Full guardianship is decided in court by a civil lawsuit brought by a parent, relative, or non-related person claiming the right to full guardianship or custody of a child, who is a minor, or adult.

Some states require the parties disputing custody to mediate a custody agreement, unless there is evidence that the child is being mistreated. The court may incorporate this mediated agreement into a custody decree. Regardless of the parties’ wishes, the court must consider the best interests of the child, before it affirms any custody agreement.

Usually, full guardianship or custody battles are due to a divorce between the parents of a child. In other situations where an older adult is involved, one adult child may also petition the court for full custody of an older parent or relative that no longer can manage his or her life (referred to as conservatorship). A custody decree will usually not be modified, unless the petitioning party can show that a substantial change in circumstances requires this modification. This substantial change in circumstances must affect the welfare of the child or adult.

For example, a child is being abused by one of the parent  or an adult being cared for is neglected or his or her mental condition has deteriorated significantly. Either way, proof must be shown and proven to the courts for them to mandate this serious change of guardianship. You and your tri-cities’ family law attorney would mount a detailed, documented, and valid case as to why this change in guardianship needs to be enacted.

What is a Parent, Non-Parent Custody Petition, and What Do I Have to Prove?

A parent, non-parent, or adult child of a parent must file a court case asking for the full legal guardianship (or custody) of a child or adult parent, sibling, or non-related person.

You, as the petitioner of the legal suit, must prove your case (with the help of your family law attorney), and must show the following to be true:

The other parent is unfit to care for the under-age child (between parents), or the older adult cannot care of him or herself or is currently being mistreated or neglected by the caregiver.

In the case of a child—that letting him or her live with an un-fit parent would hurt his or her future growth and development. If the charge is an adult, his or her mental condition has deteriorated to the point that he or she needs constant supervision and all his or her affairs handled. This could be for the individual’s safety, health and well-being, and financial stability.

Any changes made to a temporary guardianship agreement must be sanctioned and determined by the Washington State courts. You and your family law attorney must show valid proof of why this change would benefit, protect, and have a positive impact on the life of the child or adult in question.

If I Am a Non-Parent or Not Related to the Adult, Can I Still Get Full Guardianship?

Let us use the example of temporary custody of a minor who is not in either parent’s custody or neither parent is fit for custody. The same general facts would be mostly true for an older or incapacitated adult.

  • You must include all persons who may have any right to respond to your custody suit. Even if the child’s parents are not involved with the child’s life presently, they must be included.
  • Any other legal guardians, custodians, or relatives that may have a right to the child.
  • Anyone with court-ordered visitation rights.

It is up to you and your family law attorney, who will draft this serious modification, to show that you are ready, willing, and able to take care of the child (or adult). The Washington State courts always put the well-being of the child or incapacitated adult above all other considerations.

The Process to Full Legal Guardianship

First, most guardians are people who were or are an important person in the child’s or adult’s life. You also should be fully cognizant of the needs, costs, and wants of the child or adult. This is a position of great responsibility and should never be gone into lightly.

A temporary guardianship is usually a quick legal process. Once the petition for guardianship is filed, it may take a matter of weeks (or months) to finalize.

Moving to full guardianship (or custody) is a complex, costly, in-depth, and time-consuming legal proceeding. Your family lawyer will be invaluable to you in moving forward with your life and finding the best outcome for you and your family.