In the state of Indiana, an individual can file to become a guardian of a minor by petitioning the court for guardianship. They should file the Indiana guardianship forms in the county where the child resides. If a court has issued a custody or placement order regarding the child, the petition should be filed in that court.
If the minor has living parents, or there are other interested persons with regard to the child, the individual who wants to become a guardian should attempt to get the consent of those parties. Interested persons include adults the minor has lived with in the past 60 days, as well as the minor themselves, if they are age 14 or older.
Types of Guardianships Under Indiana Law
There are two main characteristics of a legal guardianship: the length of time they last and their scope. As to time, a guardianship can be temporary or permanent. A permanent guardianship is one in which the person becomes the full-time, permanent guardian for a child until the child turns 18.
A temporary guardian is one who temporarily assumes care for the child under emergency circumstances. For example, a temporary guardian will assume responsibility for a child when a parent falls ill and needs someone to care for their child while they recover. A temporary guardianship usually lasts for a maximum of 90 days and can be extended for another 90 days for good cause.
Limited and Full Guardianships
As to scope, a guardianship can be limited or full. A full guardianship is also called a plenary or complete guardianship. It covers all aspects of the child’s life: academic, social, medical care and financial affairs.
A guardianship of a minor is usually considered a full guardianship unless the court decides that the minor has reached the age where they can make certain decisions for themselves. This usually takes place when the minor is between the ages of 14 and 17. A limited guardianship covers only certain aspects of a child’s life, such as medical decisions.
A guardianship is terminated when the:
- Minor turns 18. If the person is incapacitated, the guardianship is extended to age 22.
- Minor dies.
- Natural parent regains custody.
- Guardianship is no longer needed for another reason.
Completing the Guardianship Petition
Typically, an individual will file a guardianship petition in their local probate court. After the individual files the petition, they must serve copies on the relevant parties, such as the child’s parents. The petitioner must notify the relevant parties that a guardianship hearing has been scheduled by the court.
Typically, a petition for guardianship requires that the petitioner share certain information with the court:
- Name of petitioner.
- Name of the person with which the petitioner will serve as co-guardian.
- Name of the minor child.
- Child’s date of birth.
- Child’s current address.
- Personal contact information for the petitioner and potential co-guardian, including address, phone numbers and email addresses.
- Educational background of the petitioner, including: completion of high school or college; graduate or professional degrees obtained; year degrees were received.
- Name and address of petitioner’s employer and amount of time they have been employed.
- Petitioner’s prior experience in financial management.
- Whether petitioner has a felony conviction. If yes, date of the conviction and offense.
- Petitioner’s relationship to minor child, such as aunt or family friend.
- Whether a Child In Need of Services (CHINS) petition has been filed regarding the child. If yes, state whether petition is open or closed. Indiana considers a child as a CHINS if the child is under 18 and has been neglected or abused.
- Whether a protective order has been issued for the child.
- Whether a program of informal adjustment (IA) has been filed. If yes, whether that program is open or closed. A program of informal adjustment is an agreement between the county Office of Family and Children, an abused or neglected child and the child’s parents. The agreement provides what tasks the parents must complete to keep the child safe, including parenting classes and family counseling.
- Name and address of appointed guardian, if any.
- Items and value of child’s personal property, such as clothing.
- Whether child is entitled to an allowance, compensation, insurance or pension.
- Names and addresses of child’s parents and other parties closely related by blood or marriage.
- Reason petitioner believes the child should be placed with them.
- What petitioner will provide the child with if the court appoints them as guardian.
- Whether petitioner has been appointed guardian of another person in Indiana.
- Why less restrictive alternatives, such as the child simply living with petitioner, are not sufficient to meet the needs of the child.
- Gender and race of the petitioner and child.
If the minor is 14 or older, they must sign the notice and consent form attached to the individual’s petition. This form must be notarized.
If Petitioner Is Currently Caring for the Minor
If the petitioner is currently taking care of the minor child, they must also state:
- Date on which the child began living with the petitioner.
- Reason child was placed in the petitioner’s care.
- How petitioner has been taking care of the child.
Fee and Fee Waiver
The fee for filing a petition) for guardianship of a minor is $177. An individual may qualify for a fee waiver. Typically, a petitioner must provide certain information to qualify for a fee waiver:
- Affirmation petitioner cannot pay the filing fee due to insufficient income.
- Names of persons petitioner lives with who are under 18 years old.
- Names of persons petitioner lives with who are over 18 years old.
- Names of persons petitioner lives with who they financially support.
- Combined monthly income of all persons petitioner financially supports.
- Petitioner’s hourly pay, total monthly work income, total monthly unemployment compensation, total monthly welfare benefits, total monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) benefits, total monthly child support, other monthly income, and total monthly expenses, including transportation, medical bills, insurance, child support, food, child care and utilities.
Giving Notice to Parents
After the court sets the hearing, the petitioner must make reasonable efforts to provide a copy of the petition and other pertinent documents to:
- Living parents of the child, even if they are incarcerated or have not been active in the child’s life.
- Minor child if 14 years or older.
- Any person the child lived with 60 days before the petitioner filed for appointment of guardianship.
- Any other person to which the court requires the petitioner to give notice.
The petitioner can pay to have the sheriff deliver the petition and other documents to the appropriate persons or pay to mail the papers by certified mail. The petitioner may also provide notice by publishing their intent to assume guardianship over the minor in a newspaper.
Guardianship Proceedings in Indiana
At the guardianship hearing, the individual who wants to be the child’s guardian, or the attorney representing them, will testify as to why they want to serve as guardian. The petitioner will present evidence that supports their claim, such as photos of the child at holiday celebrations with them.
The proposed guardian should explain their relationship with the child and the child’s family, provide evidence that they have cared for the child in the past, and show what items or treatment they provided for the child.
Evidence at the Court Hearing
The petitioner may present negative evidence against other parties that show why these people should not be the guardian. Records that show a parent has not held a stable job, earned sufficient income or has a lengthy criminal history are relevant.
Family members of the child who have a legal interest in them may testify to support or oppose the petitioner. These parties may also share why they should be appointed guardian of the child. The judge will rule at the end of the hearing or within a few weeks.
Parents and Consent
In order to file an uncontested petition, an individual must first obtain consent of both living parents and all interested persons. If the petitioner does not get such consent, they should expect to face opposition to their petition. When the court has terminated a parent’s parental rights, the petitioner does not need to get the consent of that parent to file a petition for guardianship.
When it is difficult to locate a parent or an interested person, the petitioner should present evidence of their attempts to contact such people. Documents showing the petitioner’s search of social media, online resources and the notice regarding their intent to assume guardianship published in a newspaper are acceptable.
Involvement of a Guardian Ad Litem
The court may ask a guardian ad litem – a person who has been trained and certified by the court – to determine what solution is in the best interests of the child. A guardian ad litem is not the same person as the individual who wants to be the guardian of the person.
The job of the guardian ad litem is to investigate the child’s living situation and mental health and report to the court on their findings. The guardian ad litem’s report is one factor that the court uses to make its decision.
Emergency Custody and Removal
Child Protective Services places a child in emergency custody when the child is not safe in their home. The initial hearing on the matter will take place within 48 hours; the two-day wait excludes Saturdays, Sundays and certain legal holidays.
Financial Assistance for Guardian
The person who becomes the guardian of the child may request child support from the birth parents on behalf of the child. The guardian may apply for financial benefits such as SSI from agencies outside the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS).
The guardian may be eligible for Guardianship Assistance subsidy payments, and the child may be eligible for Medicaid benefits. The Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) of DCS may offer a one-time reimbursement payment of up to $2,000 for expenses related to obtaining guardianship of the child.
Seek Legal Advice From an Attorney
An attorney with experience in filing for guardianship of a minor can help a petitioner complete the forms. The attorney can also represent them in a court hearing. A family law attorney is usually best suited for a guardianship case. A petitioner should choose an attorney who has experience in dealing with guardianships that focus on children. A petition for guardianship of an adult with a disability, or an incapacitated adult, is a different type of matter.
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Guardianship Assistance Program
- Indy.gov: Filing a Civil Case
- IN.gov: What Is Emergency Custody?
- Indiana Legal Help: Instructions for Guardianship of a Minor When All Living Parents and Interested Persons Have Consented
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Statutory Definition of CHINS
- Indiana Department of Child Services: General Case Management
- Indiana Legal Help: Verified Motion for Fee Waiver
- Indiana Courts: Special Processes and Procedures for Guardianships
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.