Being appointed the godmother of a friend's baby is an honor, but while it may confer religious responsibilities, it does not confer any legal rights. A godmother has no more rights than other members of the general public when it comes to making binding decisions on behalf of the child. If a couple wants to confer legal rights and responsibilities on the child's godmother, they can do so by appointing her legal guardian for the baby. Although the exact process of appointing a guardian varies among states, it is fairly easy to accomplish in several ways.
A Godmother's Legal Rights Over a Child
When a couple has a child, they may choose to select godparents for their newborn. Godparents stand as sponsors of the baby at her baptism and agree to take an active interest in nurturing the youngster's faith as she grows older. But this is an ecclesiastic appointment, not a legal one.
In the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, a child can have two godparents, one male and one female, as baptism sponsors. The godparents serve as the official witnesses that the child was baptized. A document called the baptismal certificate, issued whenever a child is baptized in the church, lists the names of the sponsors. In the Church of England, the godmother is the baby's sponsor at the christening, answers questions for the child about her faith, and steers her on a moral path as she gets older.
Yet godparents have no legal rights regarding the child and they are not eligible to get custody of the child or visitation rights. More importantly, they do not have any legal authority to make decisions in the place of the parents if the time comes when they are not able to do so themselves.
Giving a Godmother Legal Rights
Many people assume that the godmother of their child has authority to raise him and the responsibility to take care of him in case they die or become incapacitated. This is not the case under the law, since the godmother/godchild relationship is a religious one, not a legal one.
However, it is possible for a child's parents to give the godmother legal authority if they wish to do so by appointing her the child's guardian. Of course, this should only happen with the godmother's approval. The procedures for making the appointment vary a bit between jurisdictions, but they are usually simple enough to do without an attorney.
Appointing a Guardian for a Child
Everyone dies at some point – it's a part of life – but the when is never certain. Parents with young children naturally worry about what would happen to their kids if they die before the children are grown up. If parents fail to make arrangements before they die, and they die together, the consequences may have long-term, devastating effects on the children's lives.
If the person the parents names as godmother is their most trusted friend, they can take steps to name her as the child's legal guardian in the event they die or are incapacitated while the child is a minor. This provides the parents with peace of mind and the child with organized future care. One way to do this is in a will. If both parents draw up wills, and name the godmother in the will as their preferred guardian, it is very likely the court will appoint her.
It is also possible to appoint the godmother as guardian in a document that is not the will. For example, in Massachusetts, parents can use a form called Parental Nomination of Guardian, which they use to nominate the godmother as the child's legal guardian. This document should be signed by the parents and two witnesses, and the signatures should be notarized.
Read More: Guardian Vs. Custodian of a Minor Child in a Will
- US Legal: Godparents Law & Legal Definition
- Church of England: The Role of a Godparent
- Law Depot: How to Appoint a Guardian for Your Children
- Lilac City Law: How Do I Appoint a Guardian for My Child if I Die?
- Mass Legal Help: Parental Appointment of a Guardian
- The Law Dictionary: How to Arrange for Guardianship of Your Children After Your Death
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.