Tag Archives: Guardianship

How Do I Become a Minor Child’s Legal Guardian?

guardian holding a young child's hand

How Do I Become the Legal Guardian of a Minor Child? NOVAEstateLawyers.com

Legal guardianship is a very common family law topic in Virginia. When an individual is appointed as a legal guardian, they are recognized as having the legal authority and responsibility to act in another person’s best interests, on that person’s behalf.

While you may seek to become the legal guardian of an adult child or relative who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make legal decisions for themselves, this post focuses on the process of seeking guardianship of a minor child. Here’s what you need to know about legal guardianship in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

What are the rights and responsibilities of a legal guardian?

As a legal guardian of a minor child, you are legally responsible for that child’s safety and well-being and must manage his or her personal affairs. This typically involves assuming physical custody of the child from their natural parents, and making important decisions regarding their education, care, health, discipline, finances, and more. In other words, a prospective legal guardian must be able to provide a suitable and safe permanent residence for the child in question, and be able to provide for his or her basic needs.

Legal guardianship is not the same as adopting a child. Assuming the child’s natural parents are still alive and consenting to the guardianship arrangements (i.e. not having custody revoked as an unfit parent), their parental rights are generally not terminated. They often still have the right to participate in the decisions made by a legal guardian on behalf of the child, even if they are not physically present. This being the case, the child’s natural parents may still be involved in his or her financial affairs, including management of the child’s estate.

If there are financial difficulties for the parents and/or the legal guardian in providing for the child, the Court may or may not approve a request for relief. For example, the Virginia Kinship Guardian Program (KinGap) offers eligible families financial assistance to guardians to facilitate the care and maintenance of a child in their extended family.

Common reasons to appoint a legal guardian for a minor child

In most cases of legal guardianship, a minor child’s natural parents select the guardian(s) to ensure continued care and safety of that child when they are unable to do so themselves. A few common reasons where a legal guardian may have to step in include:

  • The death of one or both natural parents (this is typically addressed in the parents’ will)
  • Long-term illness of one or both natural parents
  • Incarceration of one or both natural parents
  • Addiction recovery/rehabilitation of one or both natural parents
  • Other extenuating circumstances wherein the natural parents’ home is unsafe or unfit for the minor child (e.g. civil or political unrest in their home country)

If parents have not appointed a legal guardian for their minor child in these circumstances, it’s possible that the child could go into the foster system. Legal guardianship, particularly by a relative of the child, is generally preferred to foster parents: Research shows that children who live with relatives are more likely to enjoy their living situation and feel loved/cared for, and are less likely to have behavioral issues than children who are placed into the foster care system by the state with non-relatives.

How to petition for guardianship of a minor child

If you are petitioning to be appointed as the legal guardian of a minor child in Virginia, here are the steps you will need to take with your local Circuit Court for an uncontested case*:

  1. Complete, sign, and notarize a Petition for Appointment of Guardian(s) of a Minor. This form establishes your intent and reason(s) to assume guardianship of the minor child and confirms that you are a suitable caregiver. If natural parents are living, they should also sign and notarize this form. Minor children over the age of 14 may sign the Petition for their own guardianship appointment as well.
  2. Obtain completed Exhibits from the child’s natural parents, including a copy of the child’s birth certificate and a letter of consent from the natural parents supporting your Petition (or certified copies of the parents’ death certificates if deceased).
  3. Complete, sign, and notarize a Consent Order for Appointment of Guardian(s) of a Minor. Be sure to leave space for a judge to sign and date the order. Living natural parents and minors over the age of 14 should also sign and notarize this form.
  4. Complete a Cover Sheet for Filing Civil Actions (Form CC-1416). Also known as the Virginia Civil Cover Sheet, this form is required to file any civil case in a Circuit Court in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  5. File all of the above forms in person with the Civil Court where the minor child currently decides, along with the Court filing fee. If the child is not yet a Virginia resident, you may need to first file a Petition in a court where the child resides, requesting permission to relocate them to Virginia.

*Uncontested guardianship cases mean that any living natural parents support the appointment of a legal guardian for their child. If the natural parents do not give their consent, there may be additional Court hearings and steps in the process. Please consult with a family law attorney to understand the steps in a contested guardianship case.

What if the child is not a U.S. citizen?

Assuming legal guardianship of a minor child whose parents who are living abroad is not an uncommon scenario here in Virginia. The Court documents and process are roughly the same. However, in your petition and in the natural parents’ letter of consent, you will need to specifically address the circumstances in the parents’ country of residence that render it unsafe or unfit for the minor child to live there. You may also need to submit additional Exhibits as required by the Court.

Ask an experienced family law attorney

While it is possible to represent yourself in court when seeking appointment as a child’s legal guardian, working with a family law attorney can ensure that you don’t miss any important steps in the legal process. Our law practice has been helping Northern Virginia families with guardianship cases since 2001, and we are dedicated to working toward the best possible outcome for the child, the parents, and the guardian.

Are you seeking guardianship of an incapacitated adult child or relative? We can help with that, too. Contact the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor for more information.

What You Need to Know about Adoption in Virginia

What You Need to Know about Adoption in Virginia

What You Need to Know about Adoption in Virginia
NOVA Estate Lawyers – Leesburg, VA

If you are considering adopting a child, there are several routes you can take to expand your family.

The first step is to decide what type of adoption works best for you. You can opt to adopt through a public or private agency that can facilitate the entire process, from locating birth parents to terminating their parental rights.

Or you can adopt privately by making all arrangements directly with the birth parents. Typically, private adoptions include close relative, adult, and step-parent adoptions, which entail a less-complicated procedure than other types of adoptions.

Most international adoptions are handled by agencies. Domestic adoptions, on the other hand, can be either done privately or with the assistance of an agency.

In Virginia, when adopting a minor child, a prospective adopting parent must be at least 18 years old to adopt, can be married, single or divorced, and must pass a home study to be approved for adoption. A home study is the assessment of the potential adoptive parent(s), performed by a licensed adoption agency. It includes detailed background checks, child protective service clearances, medical, educational, vocational, and other checks and histories, financial checks, and recommendations from non-relatives. After performing the home study, the agency can recommend whether the potential adoptive parent(s) are suitable to adopt a child, and state the recommended type of adoption (for instance, only infants or only domestic adoptions).

The most common types of adoption include:

    • Open vs. Closed Adoptions

In an open adoption, the biological parents and adoptive parents are open to sharing personal information and can stay in contact with each other throughout the child’s life if they choose. In a closed adoption, biological parents and adoptive parents do not have access to each other’s private information, and records may be sealed. There is no interaction between the two families.

    • Relative and Stepparent Adoption

Relative adoption and stepparent adoption refer to placement of a child in the permanent care of a relatives or stepparent.

    • Infant, Older, or Multiple Child Adoption

Minor children can be adopted at any age; however, there is a greater need for parents willing to adopt older children and sibling groups.
An adult child (age 18 or older) can also be adopted, by giving his or her own Consent; however, when the adult child is being adopted by a non-relative, some States (including Virginia) have a minimum age difference that must exist between the non-relative adopting parent and the adult child consenting to be adopted. In Virginia, that requirement is currently 15 years, meaning the non-relative adoptive parent must be at least 15 years older than the adult seeking to be adopted. A home study is typically not required for an adult child being adopted by giving his or her consent to that adoption.

    • Foster Care Adoption

Children placed in foster care are sometimes adopted by their foster family or through the foster care system, though this is a drawn-out legal process that can require the termination of the natural parents’ parental rights through multiple court-proceedings. Foster care adoptions can be completed through the Department of Social Services in conjunction with such court-proceedings.

    • Special Needs Adoption

In Virginia, many special needs children are available for adoption, and Federal and State programs exist to financially help adoptive parents.

    • International Adoption

Children under age 18 who are adopted from a Hague Convention country, and who enter the U.S. with an IH-3 visa may automatically receive U.S. citizenship. Those adopted from non-convention countries must qualify as orphans. Parents finalizing adoptions abroad must apply to the USCIS for an IR-3 visa for their child.

Do I Need an Adoption Attorney?
In Virginia, most adoptions are completed through an adoption agency or adoption attorney. You do, however, want to consult your family law attorney at the time when you are considering adoption. Your attorney can fill you in on your legal responsibilities, as well as provide helpful information to guide you through the process of adoption through completion. There are also important estate planning considerations to adoption, both for the parent giving up his or her rights if consenting to the adoption of a child, and the adopting parent who might also have natural children who then share any inheritance with their adopted sibling(s).

Contact Your Family Law Attorney
As you can see, there are many consideration and complications involved in adoption. Before you embark on this often overwhelming yet ultimately rewarding journey, consult with an attorney knowledgeable about Virginia’s laws on adoption, like attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi at the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor P.L.L.C. This way, you can receive all the necessary legal advice and support you need, and turn your focus to welcoming a child into your life.

The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C.
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(703) 669-6700

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