In situations where parents are inattentive or unable to care for their child’s needs, it may be in the child’s best interest to live with someone else, even if just temporarily. Oftentimes that “someone else” is their grandparent or another family member.
However, if you attempt to take care of the child as a non-parent with no formal legal rights, you are unable to make any medical or legal decisions for the child in question. This can cause situations where the child is unable to receive emergency medical treatment or to change schools. They could even be returned to their parents against your wishes.
In the video below, Attorney Schea gives a brief overview of the filing process required to become a guardian in New Hampshire. For a more general overview of the process, keep reading.
Guardianship in New Hampshire
Legal guardianship provides a way to obtain the legal rights to care for a child that is not your own. Guardianships are often temporary, and can provide a stable and safe environment for a child until their parents are able to care for them again.
When would I need a guardianship?
A legal guardianship is necessary if a child’s parents fail to provide (or are unable to provide) adequate care or attention for their child over an extended period of time. Household situations that may make a guardianship advisable include:
- A prison sentence
- An extended illness
- Military deployment
- Abuse or neglect
- Substance addiction
What does the process look like?
Filing for guardianship of a child (sometimes called a “minor” or “ward”) in New Hampshire is a relatively easy process. A family law attorney can help you file three necessary forms with the court. Once these are filed, a hearing will then be scheduled with a judge.
At that hearing, the judge will consider information from the petitioner and from the child’s parents (if available). The judge will then either grant or deny the guardianship based on the child’s best interests.
How long does a guardianship last?
A guardianship is in effect until the child turns 18 or until a petition to remove the guardianship is filed and granted. The guardian will have to report to the state on a regular basis during the guardianship to prove that the arrangement is still in the best interest of the child. If the court determines that the arrangement is no longer in the child’s best interest, the case is referred to the appropriate court authorities for review and follow up.
What are the responsibilities of a guardian?
A guardian is responsible for taking care of a child’s needs. This means providing tangible needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, as well as non-tangible needs like medical care, education, financial oversight, and legal rights.
Guardianship vs. adoption vs. custody
As you research guardianship options, you have undoubtedly come across these terms but may be unfamiliar with their meaning or may still be wondering which is the best option for you.
When dealing with legal custody, that term is only used to refer to the legal rights of a child’s biological parents. While legal custody (also known as “parental rights and responsibilities”) is often discussed in the context of a divorce, obtaining legal custody is not an option for another adult who is not the child’s biological parent.
Guardianship, on the other hand, gives individuals who are not the child’s biological parents the legal authority to make decisions for the child in their care. As a guardian, until the child turns 18, you may make decisions about the child’s school, home address, and medical care. However, the parent(s) may file to regain custody of their child at any time.
If you are looking for a more secure solution than that offered by guardianship, adoption permanently terminates the rights of a child’s biological parents. Adoption does not terminate once the minor turns 18, and the child’s biological parents cannot petition to regain their rights after an adoption is finalized. Additional ways that adoption differs from guardianship include:
- Inheritance: Adoption secures inheritance rights for a child. A guardian must make special provisions in their will to pass along property to the child.
- Child Support: Adoption eliminates any obligations of the child’s birth parents to pay child support, while a guardianship may require financial support from the parents.
However, if you are considering adoption, you should consider that the process of finalizing an adoption is much longer and more complex than the process of finalizing a guardianship. While a guardianship may be finalized in a few months, finalizing an adoption can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Where do I go from here?
If you are feeling overwhelmed or sense that the process may be out of your depth, talk to a family law attorney. Your attorney can guide you through the legal process and connect you to resources to help with your new responsibility. As individuals who spend their entire career handling family law cases, attorneys are very familiar with the process and can advise you as to the best option and even represent you should your case go to court.