What is a legal guardianship?

A legal guardianship is a formal decision by a judge or by appointment of the parent via a will or other written document that suspends parents' custody of their child and gives custody to a non-parent.

Who can serve as a legal guardian?

Under the probate code, any adult, 21 or older, can serve as a legal guardian for a child under 18. Usually, a relative or family friend serves as a child's legal guardian.

For what reasons would a legal guardianship be established?

Sometimes parents cannot or will not take care of their children because of lack of money or housing and will let their child live with another adult. Sometimes a parent cannot provide a safe home because of drug abuse or domestic violence in the home, or the parent might be in jail. In other cases, children don't want to live with their parents because their parents treat them badly or don't pay attention to them.

What is the scope of a guardianship?

A legal guardianship gives an adult who is taking care of a child the formal authority to provide for the child's needs. For example, with a legal guardianship, a non-parent can give a child a safe home without worrying about being charged with "kidnapping" or "harboring a runaway." A legal guardianship may be necessary because some health insurance companies won't cover a child who is not living with his or her parents if the child's caretaker is not the child's legal guardian. It is hard for a child to get medical care without a parent or legal guardian's signature. Also, if a child is living with someone who is not a relative, a legal guardianship is required for the child to receive government benefits. In addition, a legal guardianship can be helpful in establishing stability for a child who has come from a troubled family setting.

What are the responsibilities of a legal guardian?

A legal guardian has the same responsibilities for support, care, health, education and welfare of a child as a parent does. A legal guardian must feed and clothe the child, provide for the child's education and take the child to the doctor when he or she is sick. A legal guardian must also be kind and loving toward the child. If a child causes damage, the legal guardian may be held responsible.

What rights does a legal guardian have?

Once the court has granted the legal guardianship, the legal guardian acts as the child's parent. The legal guardian then has the right to raise the child without interference from anyone -- including the child's parents.

Can the parents still see the minor after the legal guardianship is granted?

Yes, but the legal guardian of the child can decide when and what type of visitation the child should have with the parents. If the parents are not satisfied with this, they can ask the court for a visitation order. If the legal guardianship is connected to a dependency and neglect proceeding, the dept. of social services would determine what if any parenting time the parents would receive.

Can parents make decisions about the child's life after the legal guardianship is granted?

No, the legal guardian has all the official powers of custody and control over the child once the legal guardianship has been granted. However, if a parent or any other interested third party disagrees with the choices the guardian is making, that person can return to court and ask for the guardianship to be ended and the child returned to the parent or placed in another legal guardianship. To end the guardianship, the parent must show that it is in the child's best interest to end the guardianship.

How does an adult get appointed legal guardian of a minor?

Setting up a legal guardianship must be accomplished according to the rules of the Colorado Court. You must fill out court forms and petitions and give them to the court as well as the child's parents, grandparents and siblings. If the proposed legal guardian is a relative, the Court Investigator's Unit will investigate to see if the legal guardianship will be good for the child. If the proposed legal guardian is not a relative of the child, the investigation is done by the Department of Social Services. The court will schedule a date for a hearing, at which time a judge will decide whether the legal guardianship is in the minor's best interests.

Who can file a petition, or ask the court for a legal guardianship?

Any adult or a child 12 or older can file a petition, asking the court for an adult to be named the child's legal guardian. For children under 12, an adult must file the petition asking that a guardian be appointed for the child. The court will give more deference to the child's wishes after the age of 12.

What factors does a judge consider in deciding whether to grant a legal guardianship?

If the child's parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters object to the legal guardianship, the judge will decide what is in the minor's best interests. If there is no objection, the judge will decide if the proposed legal guardianship will be good for the child. The older the child, the more likely the judge will consider the child's wishes. The judge will also see how much the child and the proposed legal guardian care about each other, how long they have known each other or lived together. The judge will consider the proposed guardian's ability to feed, shelter, clothe and provide medical care for the child, as well as the proposed guardian's parenting skills and physical and mental health. The judge may also look at how the proposed legal guardianship will affect the child's schooling and ties to the local community.

Why does the proposed legal guardian's home get investigated? What will the investigator look for?

After looking into the proposed legal guardian's home situation, the investigator will write a report to the judge on whether the legal guardian's home is a safe and stable place. The investigator will also check to see if any adult in the home has a criminal record or past reports of child abuse or neglect.

How long does it take to get a legal guardianship?

The hearing before a judge, who will decide whether or not to grant the legal guardianship, usually takes place six to eight weeks after the papers are filed.

What if we cannot wait six to eight weeks?

You may ask the court for a temporary guardianship along with the permanent guardianship. With a temporary guardianship, the adult caretaker is granted only those powers needed to care for the child while the permanent guardianship is being considered. A temporary guardianship is appropriate if the child needs, for example, immediate medical care, or if it would not be safe for the child to stay with his or her parents.

Can the legal guardian receive public benefits?

Generally the guardian has a right to compensation for room and board, i.e: the child is entitled to child support from his or her parents. The legal guardian can ask the judge to order the parents to pay child support. What usually happens, though, is that the state gives the legal guardian money to support the child.

How does a legal guardian take care of a child's medical needs?

If the child's parents are willing, the child can remain on his or her parents' medical plan. Or the legal guardian can put the child on the legal guardian's insurance plan, if the plan allows for it.

When does a legal guardianship end?

A legal guardianship ends when the minor is adopted, turns 19, or becomes emancipated by getting married, joining the military, or becoming self supporting. It may also be ended by the court if the legal guardian, the child 12 years or older or someone else asks that it be ended, and the judge finds that the legal guardianship is no longer in the minor's best interests.

Located in Denver (303) 515-5000 and Fort Collins (970) 472-1838, The Harris Law Firm is Colorado's largest family law firm.  Focusing exclusively on Colorado Divorce and Colorado Child Custody and Support, the firm's philosophy is to work with you to resolve your legal matter in the best way possible. When you consult with one of our attorneys, the expert legal advice you receive will help you understand your rights and options according to Colorado law. And when you retain this AV rated firm, the many years of combined experience provided by your legal team will ensure that the resolution of your case is handled in the most organized, timely, cost efficient and effective manner possible. If you want to limit conflict and protect your rights, call us today to schedule a private consultation in our Denver or Fort Collins offices. Call us at 303-515-5000 or send us an email at

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