A court has authority to appoint a legal guardian of a minor when the child’s parents are unable or unwilling to provide adequate care. This person may be a relative or a close family friend but in any case, it is necessary to file a petition for guardianship of the minor.
Establish that the child is a minor and not an adult. A minor is legally considered an adult when the child reaches the age of majority, which varies depending on the state in which the child resides. In Connecticut and New York, for example, a minor is defined as a person under 18 years of age, while in some states, such as Mississippi, a minor becomes a legal adult at the age of 21.
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Determine if you are eligible to be a guardian for the minor in question. Many states will consider a petition for guardianship of a minor made by an adult family friend or other “concerned person,” while other states require the petitioner to be a family member, or an entity such as a children’s services agency.
Complete the appropriate forms to file with your petition, if applicable. Some courts require a specific form or forms to accompany a petition for guardianship of a minor. You may also need to submit an affidavit to swear that the information you are providing to the court for consideration is true to the best of your knowledge and belief. Consult an attorney or ask the clerk of the civil court in the county in which the child resides to find out which forms you must use, if any.
File your paperwork with the right court and pay the appropriate filing fees. Most of the time, this will be Family Court or Juvenile Court in the county and state where the child resides. However, in some areas, guardianship matters are decided in a trial or civil court. In any event, the clerk of the court will most likely want three copies of your petition, together with the summons and complaint that directs the absent or negligent parent or parents to answer. One set will become property of the court, while the other two will be date-stamped and returned to you.
Serve one copy of the petition, summons and complaint stamped by the clerk on the parents, whom the court refers to as the respondents. Service means personal delivery made by a person of legal age who is not a party to the action, such as a sheriff’s deputy or a process server. You may also have to serve an additional copy by mail.
Submit proof of service to the court. Proof consists of a signed and notarized affidavit made by the person who served the papers that specifies how and when the papers were served. Because this is follow-up to filing a court action, there is usually no fee involved.
Keep in mind that the court clerk can only answer questions pertaining to filing procedures and fees and cannot provide legal advice.
Karyn Maier is a seasoned columnist and feature writer. Since 1992, her work has appeared in Mother Earth News, The Herb Quarterly, Better Nutrition and in many other print and digital publications. She is also the author of five books, and is published in six languages.