Do You Really Need a Guardianship for Your Child?
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
Sometimes parents need someone else to care for their child for a while. There may be different reasons why this is needed. Parents in this situation are often convinced by school officials or medical personnel that a guardianship is needed. However, this is not always best and there are other options.
What is a Guardianship?
Guardianships are a court-authorized way to allow one person (the guardian) to make decisions for another person (the ward). A guardian is a person the court believes is able to make decisions for the ward, your child. These decisions include things like medical treatment, where the child lives, what the child eats, who sees the child, and the child’s education.
There is court oversight of the guardianship. The court order establishing the guardianship sets out the decision-making powers of the guardian. Many decisions the guardian can make without court approval. Those decisions usually include things like making decisions regarding the day-to-day care, comfort, and maintenance of the child, including decisions about education, medical, dental and other health care treatment. However, the guardian will need to ask for the court’s permission before making decisions about:
- Establishing the residence of the child outside of the state,
- Consenting to the marriage or the emancipation of the child, or
- Withholding life-sustaining procedures.
The court also requires the guardian to file written annual reports on the status and progress of the child. This means that the court’s involvement is ongoing.
Someone told me I can get a Temporary Guardianship. Is that true?
Although it is possible to get a temporary guardianship, very few are actually set up that way. The vast majority of guardianships are set up to keep going until one of several events happen:
- The child reaches age 18,
- The child dies, or
- The court decides to end the guardianship for another reason.
Usually to end a guardianship, the parent will need to go to court and show the court why a guardianship is no longer needed. A guardianship is rarely a good idea if the parent’s need for help is short-term.
Is There an Alternative to Having a Guardian?
Yes, an option is to appoint a Power of Attorney (POA) for your minor child. A POA allows you to name a person to act on your child’s behalf for you. A POA is a written document by which the parent (the principal) gives to another person (attorney-in-fact) the authority to act on the minor child’s behalf and to make health care decisions. Once the POA is granted, the attorney-in-fact can act as a “parent” for the child when dealing with school officials or medical personnel. It is not filed in court. It does not cost any money to use.
When you do not want the person to have the POA anymore, you can revoke it in writing at anytime without court involvement. The POA can also be written to end at a certain time. Another benefit is that a POA does not require continued court supervision. However, the parent needs to make sure that the person named in the POA is trustworthy. This person will be able to make decisions about the child without anyone supervising those decisions.
It is best to discuss your situation with an attorney and decide which option is best for you. If you have questions about getting a POA, a guardianship, or revoking a POA, you may call Iowa Legal Aid.