As parents, we hope that our adult children will be able to care for themselves and their families as they age. However, certain circumstances can hinder an adult’s ability to care for their own children. Maybe your adult child is a single parent deployed in the military or is currently incarcerated. In a scenario like this, you may find yourself stepping into a role you never anticipated as your grandchild’s legal guardian.

Whether the situation is temporary or likely to become permanent, each state has its own laws regarding guardianship. In California, the court may appoint a guardian to either have physical and/or legal custody of the child or to manage the child’s estate. It is the first scenario with which this blog is concerned.

When is a guardian appointed by the court?

If parents are unable to care for their children due to any number of reasons, a guardian will be appointed by the court. This guardian will then be charged with providing for the emotional and physical needs of the child as well as responsible for their mental wellbeing. They become the de facto parent, at least for a time.

Reasons a biological parent may be considered incapacitated by the court:

  • Debilitating physical or mental illness
  • Military deployment
  • Rehab
  • Jail
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Abusive behavior toward the child

Important things to note

It is key to remember that guardianship is not the same as adoption. The child’s parents still have a legal right to contact with their child. This may be troubling or beneficial, depending on the circumstances in which you became the child’s guardian.

Also, your role as guardian is not guaranteed. If the court feels that you are not performing your duties or if the parent becomes able to care for the child again, your guardianship could be revoked. Unlike a settled adoption, guardianship is sometimes monitored by the court.

Usually, guardianship only lasts until a child is eighteen. At that point, the child becomes a legal adult and able to make their own decisions about where they will live and with whom.

If you find yourself in the role of guardian, temporary or otherwise, providing a safe and stable environment for your grandchild is your responsibility.