The phrase “parent or guardian” is commonly used to inclusively refer to other adults that act as a parent. In some cases, a guardian will be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even an older sibling that cares for a child. Older siblings seeking to become their sibling’s legal guardian should understand exactly what a “guardian” is and how to seek guardianship, child custody, or adoption to care for their younger siblings. The Ventura family law attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain what it means to be a “guardian” and how to seek a legal guardianship in California.

What Is a Legal Guardian in California?

A guardian is someone who is legally responsible for someone under their supervision. In some cases, guardianships are used for people with developmental issues or health problems to help them manage their finances. More commonly, anyone other than a parent who has custody of a child is considered a “guardian.”

A guardian usually steps in to take custody of and care for a child when the parent is unavailable or unable to care for them. This does not always happen in cases involving disputes among the family members but may be part of a mutual decision to ensure the child is cared for while the parents are out of the country or incarcerated.

Guardianships are common in cases where the parents are unable to parent, often because of one of the following issues:

  • Incarceration
  • Absence from the state or from the country (e.g., during military service or business trips)
  • Illness
  • Death

A guardian may also be necessary if the children are at risk because of the parents’ drug use, abuse, or other dangers.

A guardian is commonly necessary when both parents are unavailable, but a guardianship may also be granted when only one parent is unavailable. In cases where one parent works or can’t be present at all times, a sibling or grandparent with a guardianship can help make decisions and care for the child in the parent’s absence. Appointing this person as the child’s guardian can help empower them to make decisions in the parent’s absence.

How Is a Guardianship Different from Child Custody or Adoption?

Child custody is the right to make legal decisions for the child and have them live with you in your household. A guardianship gives you custody rights over the child as if you were the child’s parent. In contrast, adopting a child makes you the child’s legal parent and gives you custody rights and other rights.

You can be a child’s legal guardian without disrupting the parent’s custody rights and parental rights. Guardianships are often temporary and are used to care for the child while the parents are unavailable, but they do not usually stop the parent from being able to make decisions or care for their children, too.

Adoption, on the other hand, makes you the child’s parent in place of an existing parent. A child can typically only have 2 legal parents in California. This is commonly the biological parents, but using a donor or adopting a child from birth may set someone else as the legal parents. If a child is adopted, the existing parents usually must first cut their legal ties and allow the new parents to take over. This makes you the permanent parent rather than a temporary or long-term caregiver as in the case of a guardianship.

Seeking Guardianships for Brothers and Sisters in California

To be appointed as your sibling’s legal guardian, you need a court order. The process of seeking custody will be different under different circumstances, and you may need to go to a different court to get the court orders you need.

Courts usually appoint guardians under two main circumstances:

  • The juvenile was removed from their home as part of juvenile detention and may eventually go to foster care or care from another guardian other than their parents.
  • A parent is unavailable and the child needs someone to care for them in the parent’s absence.

Cases stemming from juvenile proceedings are usually handled by a juvenile court while cases appointing guardians in a parent’s absence are usually handled by a probate court.

In either case, the process of getting appointed as guardian usually involves petitioning the court and contacting any social workers or foster parents involved in the case to request that you be appointed guardian. In cases where one or both parents are available, it may be much simpler to file a petition with the court and get permission to be appointed guardian over a younger brother or sister.

An attorney can guide you through the process and ensure that you file your case in the appropriate court with the appropriate information the court needs to grant your guardianship.

Call Our Ventura Family Lawyers for Help Becoming a Legal Guardian

If you want to file to be a legal guardian for your younger brother or sister, whether because your parents are unavailable or because your sibling is in need, contact the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today. Our Ventura family lawyers can help you file for custody and be appointed as your sibling’s legal guardian. To schedule a free consultation on your case, call our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.