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Whether a child’s parents have become ill, incapacitated, or, in extreme cases, have passed away, it can be hard when parents can no longer care for their children. In many cases, close relatives or friends can step in and become guardians to care for minor children under 18.

If you have questions about guardianships or want to get started on the process, the Gentry Law Firm can help. Call (770) 425-5573 for a free initial consultation.

When Are Guardianships Considered?

When parents cannot make decisions for their children, a guardian is usually appointed to act in their stead. For instance, a guardian could be chosen when both parents have died or are incapable of making decisions.

In some cases, a guardian may be appointed to care for a minor child for a single parent who cannot care for their child. A parent enlisted in the military may have a guardian appointed to care for their child during their deployment.

Guardians are usually appointed when parental rights have been terminated completely. They are not usually considered in custody matters like divorce, and parents themselves cannot be appointed guardians.

What Can Guardians Do?

Guardians will have the same power as parents over children. In child custody cases, guardianships apply to adults caring for “wards,” meaning children younger than 18.

Guardians will make decisions in their wards’ best interest while respecting their rights and dignity. They arrange the minor’s support, care, education, health, and welfare. For instance, they can decide where the children attend school or where they live.

Guardians are also expected to care for any of the minors’ personal property. They’ll cooperate with a conservator, if one has been assigned, to reinforce the wards’ financial future.

Guardians will give an annual report to the court on the wards’ condition.

Guardians are not always personally liable for the wards’ expenses, acts, or obligations during the guardianship.

What Kind of Guardianships Exist in Georgia?

Georgia law defines several types of guardians with different levels and expectations of responsibility for caring for a ward.

  • Natural Guardian — simply put, the parent of the child in question. In most circumstances, the natural guardians care for their children and make decisions in their everyday lives. They have parental rights.
  • Permanent Guardian — an individual authorized to care for a minor child when both parents are deceased.
  • Testamentary Guardian — a guardian appointed in a will by the child’s parents.
  • Temporary Guardian — an individual appointed to care for minor children when the parents cannot care for them temporarily.

The Difference Between Conservatorships and Guardianships

Although the two terms are often conflated, there is a difference between the functions and purposes of a conservator and a guardian.

Guardians are responsible for caring for a minor’s well-being. A conservator will handle financial matters. While one person may function in both roles, it isn’t uncommon for two people to cover these two different roles.

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Who Can Be a Guardian in Georgia?

Under Georgia Law, a few individuals might take over guardianship for minors.

The probate judge will consider the options in this order:

  • the nearest adult relative of the child (as defined under Georgia’s Wills, Trusts, and Administration of Estates statutes);
  • other adult relatives;
  • adults related to the child by marriage;
  • Adults designated in writing, like a will, by the parents; and
  • An adult who has provided care or support to the child, or the child has lived with them.

When the child is 14 years or older, they may request their guardian, although a judge will need to approve the adult and their ability to perform this role first.

The court will have the final say in matters of guardianship. They may ignore a parent’s choice of guardian in some situations. The ultimate decision will be made in the child’s best interest.

A judge will consider whether the guardian candidate and the ward have an existing bond, the candidate can provide for the ward, is physically and mentally sound, and if the current home is unsafe for the child.

What is the Process of Gaining Guardianship in Georgia?

In order to become a ward’s guardian, an attorney will apply with the probate court in the minor’s county of residence or in the county in which the petitioner plans to live with the ward.

There’s a lot of information to include in the guardianship petition. Besides the basics, like the ward’s and petitioner’s names, addresses, and dates of birth, there’s information about existing guardians and relatives.

You may also need to notify existing relatives you’ve applied for guardianship within 14 days of filing. You may have to file more than one petition if there are siblings with different parents.

In cases where a child is born out of wedlock, the father needs to be notified of the petition, if he can be identified. He’ll have 30 days to file a continuance to be legitimated. He’ll forfeit his parental rights if he isn’t legitimated in time.

The Guardianship Application Timeline

Once your lawyer has submitted a valid petition and everyone who needs to be notified has been, the probate court clerk will schedule a hearing.

The judge can order a background check on the petitioner, which can delay the process.

Petitions can be denied for various reasons. If a ward has a living parent, they can reject the guardianship. Relatives have 10 days to respond to a petition, which could result in a dismissal. A knowledgeable guardianship attorney can help you with your application and explain potential obstacles and solutions.

Can Guardianships be Terminated?

There are some cases where guardianships end. Temporary guardianships are designed to last until their purpose is fulfilled, i.e., an enlisted parent’s deployment ends.

Wards can have a say in their guardians. If they feel the guardian is not serving in their best interest, they can ask for a new one.

Guardians can ask for their role to end in various circumstances, for instance, if the scope of the guardianship is more than they initially thought.

An experienced family law attorney in Marietta, GA can answer questions you have about guardianships.

How a Legal Guardianship Lawyer Can Help You

Becoming someone’s legal guardian can be complicated. There are many factors to consider, so tackling the issue alone could be daunting.

It’s best to turn to a law firm with the background to help you reach your goal. A guardianship lawyer can guide you through Georgia’s laws. They can listen to your story and determine which kind of guardianship might suit you best and file your petition.

They can act as your liaison with the court or any of the ward’s relatives. Custody can be a tense subject, but an attorney can help handle arguments or clashes with those involved.

Turn to the Gentry Law Firm for Help in Your Guardianship

Attorney William Gentry has practiced law in Georgia since 1986. Divorce and family law have been his primary focus. His team is ready to answer your questions and help you with custody matters.

The Gentry Law Firm is ready to hear your story and work with you to find the best outcome possible.

Call (770) 425-5573 or use our online form to schedule your free initial consultation.