Guardianships and Dependencies can be the most gut-wrenching areas of law, but also the most rewarding.
Guardianship of Children
Guardianships of children are now done through the juvenile court, and are always voluntary. This makes the process relatively simple, but there must be no errors. In a juvenile guardianship, both parents voluntarily grant the guardianship to the person seeking the guardianship. This is often the most significant challenge. After each parent executes the consent, it is a matter of timely completing the requirements in the process. Sadly, I have seen a sharp increase in juvenile guardianships during the last few years as more parents become unable or unwilling to care for their children. However, the children involved in these guardianships are fortunate to have someone willing and able to care for them.
Guardianship of Adults
Sometimes it becomes necessary to get a guardianship of an aging parent or other relative or a severely disabled adult child. The probate court is responsible for this process and may be contested by other relatives, the other parent, siblings, or the person that the petitioner is seeking to protect. The outcome is much less predictable.
A child dependency is a process presented in juvenile court and is most often a contested matter. The petitioner, often the state (but sometimes a relative, such as a grandparent), alleges that neither parent is able or willing to provide for the child's basic needs. The petitioner asks the court to place the child in the custody of the state. The child is often placed in foster care or the care of a relative. If the parents cannot demonstrate the ability and willingness to provide their child's basic care, the court may sever their parental rights. Each parent, the child or children, the state, and the person who filed the petition (if the state didn't file) are parties to the action. The Court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the children, as well as attorneys to represent each parent. A representative from Child Protective Services attends the hearings as well.