If you’re facing the dilemma of getting emergency guardianship of your grandchild, state and local agencies experienced with child custody laws can help. All states offer structured, step-by-step solutions to gaining emergency guardianship of a child. There’s little in life that tugs as fiercely at the heartstrings as a grandchild in need. Discovering that you have options within the court system may help relieve the doubt and confusion surrounding your grandchildren’s future.
Guardianship vs. Custody
The two terms seem nearly identical, but guardianship and custody are different legal constructs. Guardianship laws vary from state to state. Often appointed when parents are physically incapacitated or deceased, a guardian is a third party, such as a grandparent, who stands in place of parents to make daily decisions in caring for a minor. Guardians usually continue in their role until the child reaches adulthood. Parents who are still living may retain some parental rights and considerations. Emergency guardianship requires specific court filings and approval by a judge to have legal standing.
Custody may refer to legal custody or physical custody or both. Physical custody pertains to where the child actually lives. Many grandparents assume physical custody and feed, clothe and take care of their grandchildren when they’re sick. However, they do not have legal rights. Legal custody gives you the right to make decisions and take responsibility for a child's care, such as where a child lives. Parents have legal custody of their children unless a court removes that right or the parents voluntarily give up that right.
Seek Professional Support
Some grandparents seek emergency guardianship because they believe their grandchild is being mistreated. If you believe your grandchild is in imminent danger of harm due to parental abuse or neglect, contact your local police force via 911. If you have misgivings about a situation and need further guidance, consider contacting the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline 800-422-4453. Calls are confidential. The hotline is operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Explore Your Options
The legal issues surrounding child custody or guardianship are complex and strictly governed by the state in which the minor child resides. Courts require very detailed and specific reasons for removing children from their parents or selecting a new guardian for minors. If you fear parental interference, seeking physical and legal custody of a child may be a better option than guardianship.
For the best outcome, it’s recommended that you enlist the aid of an attorney experienced in family law to fully explore your legal options. If finances are a concern, search for pro bono programs through your state bar association and local legal aid societies that offer qualified legal services for little to no cost.
In many states, parents can willingly sign over temporary custody to grandparents by completing a temporary relative custody form. This offers solutions to parents who are unable to care for their children for a specific amount of time, such as during absences due to military service. With temporary relative custody, parents give grandparents permission to make decisions concerning the health and welfare of the minor child.
Other options available in emergency situations include voluntary kinship care. The rules of kinship care vary greatly from state to state, and establishing kinship typically requires the assistance of child welfare services. In some jurisdictions, child welfare services can place children in the care of grandparents or other close relatives without court or state involvement. Formal kinship care occurs when the child welfare agency assumes legal custody of the minors on behalf of the state and grants physical custody to the grandparents or another close relative.