Changes to Iowa's Minor Guardianship Laws
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
CHANGES TO IOWA’S MINOR GUARDIANSHIP LAWS
Sometimes neither parent can take care of a child. This situation could be due to death, disability, or some other reason. In such cases, another person, often a family member or friend, can ask a court to give them the legal authority to care for the child and make day-to-day decisions for the child. This person is called a guardian.
For many years, minor guardianship proceedings have been governed by Iowa’s Probate Act. Beginning January 1, 2020, a new minor guardianship law will go into effect. The new law is called the “Iowa Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act.” This new law imposes more requirements on individuals seeking to become guardians of minors and offers more protections for biological parents, proposed guardians and children.
One of the biggest changes is that minor guardianship cases will now be heard in juvenile court instead of probate court. The law also makes significant changes to the guardianship filing, hearing and administrative processes.
Below are some of the most important things to know about the new law:
- BACKGROUND CHECKS — All proposed guardians will have to submit to a background check, including a criminal records check, a child abuse registry check, a dependent adult abuse registry check, and a sex offender registry check. The person filing the petition for guardianship will be responsible for the costs of the background check. However, the court may waive the fees for good cause. This judge will consider the results of the background check in deciding whether someone is a suitable guardian.
- AGREEMENT ON RESPONSIBILITIES — If a biological parent agrees to the guardianship, in addition to signing a consent form, the parent and the guardian must submit an agreement that lays out the responsibilities of the guardian and the responsibilities of the parent or parents. The agreement must also state how long the parent and guardian think the guardianship will last.
- COURT-APPOINTED COUNSEL FOR PARENT — The court will appoint an attorney to represent a parent if the parent does not agree to the guardianship, asks the court for an attorney, and cannot afford an attorney.
- COURT-APPOINTED COUNSEL FOR CHILD — The court may appoint an attorney to represent the child. The attorney will advocate for the child’s wishes unless the child is too young to state their wishes. In those cases, the attorney will advocate for the child’s best interest.
- COURT-APPOINTED COUNSEL TO ASSIST THE COURT — The court may also appoint a court visitor for the child. The court visitor cannot be the same person as the child’s attorney. The court visitor will meet with the child and explain the guardianship process to them and determine what the child wants. The court visitor may also talk with the parents and the proposed guardian. The court visitor may visit the child’s home and may review medical, educational and social service reports and speak with the child’s teachers, doctor or service providers. The court visitor will provide the judge with a written recommendation about the guardianship.
- VISITATION – A guardian must get approval from the court before a guardian can deny all visitation, communication or interaction between the minor and the minor’s parents. However, a guardian can place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of visitation between the child and the parent without court approval.
- INITIAL CARE PLAN – A guardian will have to file an initial care plan within 60 days of being appointed guardian. The initial care plan will have to include information on many different things, including the child’s health, education, activities, and plan for payment of the minor’s expenses. This initial care plan requires more information and details than the initial reports that are currently required.
- COURT COSTS – In some cases, the biological parents may have to pay for some of the costs associated with the guardianship proceeding.
The new law still allows biological parents to file petitions to terminate a guardianship.
Under the new law, If the parent agreed to the original guardianship, the court will terminate the guardianship if the parent is no longer in agreement unless terminating the guardianship would be harmful to the child AND the child’s interest in continuing the guardianship outweighs the parent’s interest in terminating the guardianship.
If the parent did not agree to the original guardianship, the new law states that the parent must demonstrate that the guardianship should be terminated. If the parent does that, then the guardian must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the guardianship should not be terminated.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org