How Guardianships Work FAQ

If a child other than my own child lives with me, do I need a guardianship?

You won't need a guardianship if the child is only staying with you for a few weeks or months, but anyone who anticipates caring for a child for more than a few months will probably need a legal guardianship. Without this legal arrangement, you may have trouble registering the child in school, arranging for medical care, and obtaining benefits on the child's behalf. In addition, you'll have no right to continue providing care if the child's parents want him back -- even if you think they're incapable of providing appropriate care.

An adult who has physical custody of a child may have reasons for not wanting to become a legal guardian -- for example:

  • The caretaker expects that the child's parents will not consent to a legal guardianship.
  • Dynamics between family members are such that filing for a guardianship might set off a battle for legal custody. (This would be especially likely where a stepparent and one natural parent care for a child.)
  • The caretaker doesn't want to be scrutinized in court or by a court-appointed investigator.

Some adults try to slide by and raise children (often grandchildren or other relatives) without any legal court authorization. If you go this route, you could run into problems with institutions that want authority from a parent or court-appointed legal guardian. Some communities and institutions, however, are very accommodating of people who are bringing up someone else's children. California, for example, has created a form that gives a nonparent permission to enroll a child in school and make medical decisions on the child's behalf without going to court. Research the laws in your state or talk to a knowledgeable family law attorney to find out whether there are ways you can care for a child that don't involve becoming a legal guardian.

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