Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

More grandparents are seeking guardianship

One of the saddest consequences of the opioid crisis is the collateral damage. Parents who are dealing with substance abuse issues often become unable to care for their children. When a parent is physically ill or incarcerated due to drug or alcohol use, children may end up shuffled among other family members or caught up in the foster care system.

You did not want that to happen to your grandchildren, and you have lovingly provided a stable home for them apart from the dangers and confusion of living with an addict. While you may have mixed feelings about taking the children from your own son or daughter, you know it is for the best, and you are happy that the children have bonded with you. However, do you have all the legal protection you need?

Why do you need to make it legal?

Caring for your grandchildren is likely not what you expected to do with your retirement. However, you are not alone. About 10 percent of children in the U.S. are under the guardianship of their grandparents, but most of these loving caregivers have not obtained legal custody. Without this legal process, you have limits to the decisions you can make for your grandchildren. This could be critical if any of the following situations arise:

  • The child needs special educational services.
  • It is necessary for the child to transfer to a new school.
  • The child requires emergency medical attention.
  • You wish the child to attend your church.
  • The child needs psychological counseling.
  • You wish to move with the child.

Additionally, you may not have the legal right to raise the child as you see fit, and at any time, the parents may reclaim the child, even if they are unfit to handle parenthood.

Benefits of legal guardianship

If you have the sad realization that your child's substance abuse is not a healthy influence on your grandchild, you may have stepped in to provide a life as normal as possible. While guardianship doesn't terminate parental rights, your child may be limited to visitation time with your grandchildren.

Additionally, if you have taken the steps to seek legal custody, the California family courts are more likely to take your side if the parents, while still unfit, try to reclaim the children. Without this protection, many grandparents have watched helplessly as their children took away the grandchildren and permanently cut the grandparents out of their lives.

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