To become a child's guardian in Indiana, you have to file a petition with the county government, then participate in a hearing. A guardian is an individual appointed to protect the interests of a child, and under IC 29-3-8 of the Indiana Code, has all the responsibilities and authority of a parent. Guardianships can be created for a variety of reasons that range from the safety and welfare of a child to the need for an impartial adult to handle financial issues.
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Anyone may request guardianship under IC 29-2-5-1(1), but you'll be required to show that appointment is in the child's best interest.
Types of Guardianship
There are three general types of guardianship petitions:
- Petition for temporary guardianship.
- Petition for permanent guardianship.
- Temporary guardianship due to emergency.
If you choose either of the first two petitions, you have to attend a hearing before becoming guardian. An emergency petition can be granted without a hearing, then undergoes review at a later date.
You can also choose whether you go before a judge or a jury for your hearing. The decision has to be made within 72 hours of filing, so it's a good idea to think about it before filing the paperwork.
Drafting the Petition
You can obtain a blank copy of the guardianship petition form from the county courthouse where the child currently resides, or online from your county court website. If there is an existing child custody case, use the caption information from that case in your petition, and include information on the current custodial arrangement.
If the child is old enough to express a preference and wants you as her guardian, say so in the petition. If the person currently caring for the child supports your guardianship, mark "agreed" on the form.
File and Serve
File your petition with the clerk of court's office in the county where the child lives. Filing fees vary by county; in Clark County, for example, they're $176 at time of writing. Then you have to "serve" - deliver a copy of the petition - the parents and any existing guardians. The county sheriff can serve the papers for you, for another fee. You don't have to contact the parents if they've already terminated their parental rights.
The Guardianship Hearing
Indiana courts prefer amicable agreements on matters such as custody and guardianship. If you cannot come to an agreement with the current custodian or guardian, the court will conduct a hearing - or a jury trial if you requested one - to resolve the issue. The court will seek to place the child with the person best qualified to serve as guardian for the child's interests. You will have to attend the hearing to make your case.