When Should You Seek a Legal Guardian for Your Minor Child?

Patricia TichenorLegal

legal guardian for a minor child

For most parents, naming a legal guardian for a minor child is simply a precaution and done in an estate planning document such as a Will or Designation of Standby Guardian, in the unlikely event of their premature death or incapacity.

However, there may come a time during your life where you need to give someone else the present legal authority to care for your child. Sometimes, the situation might be temporary, but in other cases, it can be permanent. Regardless of the timeline, you’ll want to understand when it might be appropriate to seek a formal court order that appoints another person to serve as the legal guardian of your child.

Legal guardians are responsible for providing children with all the basic necessities: food, a safe place to live, education, medical care, and any additional financial expenses that may arise, depending on the child’s needs. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to provide these things yourself, you can prepare legal paperwork which shows your consent to appoint someone else to serve as a legal guardian and ensure that someone you know and trust is caring for your child.

When might you need a legal guardian for a minor child?

If parents abandon their child or are otherwise deemed unfit by the court, a judge will typically mandate that a guardian be appointed. However, the following are circumstances where a parent can be proactive and involved in appointing their child’s legal guardian.

  • If you are unable to provide a safe and stable home environment for your child due to extenuating circumstances. “Extenuating circumstances” can vary greatly, but it comes down to you and your family deciding that your child would be better-cared for outside of your home. This may include concerns about the child’s physical or emotional safety, education, financial stability, and more.
  • If you live in a country experiencing political or civil unrest. In this case, your child will be safer living with relatives abroad. This is a common scenario in Virginia, where a child from overseas comes to live with a U.S.-based relative. Your proposed legal guardian will need to clearly state what the situation is in your home country when they file their petition.
  • You are unable to take care of your child due to illness or incapacity. If you are a single parent facing a debilitating illness or incapacity (and your child’s other parent is not involved in their life), it is wise to preemptively have someone else assume legal responsibility for your child.

How to petition for guardianship in Virginia

To begin a legal guardianship case in Virginia, the person or couple who wishes to become the child’s guardian must file a petition with their local Circuit Court. In this petition, the prospective guardian must state the facts of the case, including an explanation of the circumstances that warrant guardianship.

You and your child’s other parent (if living) would be listed as the Respondents on this petition. You must draft a letter of consent stating that you support the appointment of the Petitioner as the child’s legal guardian. This letter will be included as an Exhibit with the petition, along with your child’s birth certificate and any other applicable documentation (such as a death certificate if the other parent is deceased), plus the standard Virginia Civil Cover Sheet.

Finally, the Petitioner(s), you, and your child’s other parent must all sign a Consent Order for Appointment of Guardians of a Minor in the presence of a notary public. This form will later be signed by a judge to make the guardianship arrangement legally binding.

Need assistance with guardianship case? MLCC can help.

At My Legal Case Coach, we offer form packets for both domestic and international guardianship cases. Because these cases can sometimes be complicated, we recommend scheduling a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your circumstances with a licensed Virginia attorney. If you decide one of our packets is right for your case, you’ll receive one free hour of personalized 1:1 coaching with your purchase.