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Taking care of children is a lifetimes job, but what happens when Mom or Dad cannot responsibly care for their kids? Maryland protects its most vulnerable with guardianship. Here’s all you need to know to obtain it:

  • Permanent guardianship, an alternative to adoption;
  • The necessity of permanent guardianship, how to provide stability; And
  • Becoming a permanent guardian, what needs doing to get it.

Definition of Permanent Guardianship

This is a way to create a permanent relationship between a child and their caretaker as a family without removing the biological parent’s parental rights. Essentially, a permanent guardian assumes the caretaking duties for the long term.

For example, when a custodial parent(s) abuses drugs or alcohol to a point where they can no longer care for their children, they may seek the child/children’s permanent guardianship with a family member.

Therefore, allowing themselves to get the help they need while their children are appropriately cared for and still visiting.

Or, the courts may deem the parents unfit and appoint a guardian. Maryland’s courts appoint guardians to protect our most vulnerable individuals.

Interested persons may petition for guardianship in Maryland. The state defines “interested persons” as the other parent, adult siblings, spouses, children and other lawful heirs, health care agent (if any), Government agencies like Social Security, Social Services, or Veterans Affairs, and others considered appropriate by the court.

Being granted permanent guardianship by the courts also comes with an order of custody to establish custody of the child with the guardian.

The overall goal of permanent guardianship is to provide a stable and “permanent” living environment for children while still maintaining family connections with their parents.

Once established, the permanent guardian assumes the responsibilities for making the following decisions:

  • Medical care
  • Upbringing
  • Residence
  • Education
  • Travel

Permanent guardianship is an excellent alternative to adoption, especially for those parents who want to be a part of their child’s life but cannot provide stability. Permanent guardianship provides visitation if the biological parent desires.

Although parents give up their parental rights with an adoption, permanent guardianship does not eliminate those rights. Unlike adoptive parents, guardians are overseen by the courts.

Sometimes, a biological parent may petition the court to re-establish their child’s custody and guardianship. Although rare, as permanent guardianship is designed to give children long-term permanent care until they are 18, the parent’s rights have not been relinquished, allowing for the possibility.

Why is Permanent Guardianship Needed?

Usually, parents expect to make all the decisions about their child’s care, but there are circumstances when that cannot happen.

For instance, when an accident tragically takes both parents’ lives, or the courts have deemed them unfit, someone else needs to step in to take care of the child or children.

Both of those scenarios are drastic, and others are more subtle. Permanent guardianship may be a solution for parents who deal with severe mental illness like schizophrenia or those who do not have the financial means to care for children.

Therefore, allowing the biological parent to have their child adequately cared for while also having contact and a relationship with the child or children.

A scenario like this represents a prime example of having the child’s grandparents become guardians. They were Mom and Dad to the parent, giving them experience in raising kids, plus they are family and likely want their child to be involved in the grandchild’s life.

Permanent guardianship provides children with regular care, residence, and safety when their parents cannot do that for them.

Just because life has thrown its share of curveballs does not mean a relationship between parent and child should end. Unlike adoption, permanent guardianship allows the parent/child relationship to continue.

Remember the age-old saying, “Life’s not fair,” well, that may be true, but that does not mean it has to be intolerable. Children bring great joy to life; missing out on their life strips us of that joy.

Stay involved. Even when life prevents someone from performing full-time parental duties, permanent guardianship keeps parents participating in their children’s lives.

What Needs to be Done to Get Permanent Guardianship

The court is the guardian; anyone who is given that title is just in service of the court to carry out its responsibility of protecting Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens.

Although Maryland does not have permanent guardianship per se, the state qualifies guardianship into two types:

  • Guardianship of the Person
  • Guardianship of the Property

A person petitions for either one or both, and they can be held by different persons or just one.

This article is about permanent guardianship. How do you get that in Maryland? Just because the state does not name guardianship as permanent, having custody over a minor child lasts until 18. Only death, modification, and age of maturity can end guardianship of a minor in the state, making it pretty permanent – if you ask us.

The guardianship of the person fits the bill for permanent guardianship in the state. It gives the guardian responsibility for providing food, clothing, shelter, and making personal decisions for a minor about education, finance, or health care until the age of maturity.

It only becomes necessary to obtain guardianship of the property and guardianship of the person in cases of children if there are assets involved with the child, like a trust fund or house passed down through a will.

Most kids do not have wealth or assets – unless they happen to be someone like Ryan Kaji and have their own YouTube channel, like Ryan’s World (he made $26 million in 2019 alone), there is no need for that guardianship.

A petition must be filed with the county circuit court where the child resides. That petition must provide a description of a disability. In cases of children under 18, being a minor is considered a disability in Maryland–why a guardian is needed and why it is in the child’s best interest.

Next, the court will sign a “Show Cause Order” that calls for all parties involved in the petition – petitioner, child, and interested persons – to respond to the petition for guardianship.

Afterward, the court will appoint an attorney for the child or hire one. Courts do this to ensure no violations of due process.

Now, there is a guardianship hearing held in circuit court. This hearing is where the court listens to arguments for why a guardian is needed and who the most appropriate guardian would be. The hearing would also decide whether the individual has a disability that requires guardianship, but with children, anyone under 18 is considered “disabled” under Maryland law.

Finally, the court will select who should be the guardian. However, that may have been chosen already by the child or the child’s parents.

Then, the court issues a written document, the Guardianship Order, that describes the type of guardianship, information about the child or children, the guardians’ info, the reason for guardianship, and the guardian’s specific powers and limitations.

After all of that, there is training that Maryland requires of guardians and reporting and recordkeeping.

And that is if the guardianship is uncontested. If someone contests the petition for guardianship, then a trial is held to determine who should have guardianship. Here the court decides what is in the child’s best interest – parent or a guardian?

Obtaining guardianship is a long, trying journey that could use an experienced guardianship attorney. The process is straightforward. However, if someone contests or is more than one party interested in guardianship, then there will be some legal maneuvering needed to put them at the top of the list.

Permanent guardianship is not a decision to be made lightly as it will affect the rest of the minor’s life. Remember, guardians take over the role of caretaker and provider for a child. Therefore, the courts must make the right decision regarding the child or children’s best interests.

Having a legal champion by your side will help you navigate through the court system, file the correct paperwork, and ultimately attain guardianship of a minor. It takes responsibility, sacrifice, and love to be a guardian – much like a parent.