If you find yourself in a position where you need to become the legal guardian of a minor child, the odds are extremely good that the circumstances leading up to your current situation are less than happy. Often, the need to become a child’s legal guardian stems from the death or incapacity of the child’s parent(s). When that is the case, you must go through the legal steps required to formally be awarded guardianship of the child even if the parent(s) named you as guardian is a Will or other document. To get you started, the Murfreesboro family lawyers at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explain how to become the legal guardian of a minor child in Tennessee.
What Is Guardianship of a Minor?
Guardianship of a minor child is governed by Tennessee Code Section 34-1-101 et seq. Under Tennessee law, the biological parents of a minor child are considered the child’s natural legal guardians by virtue of the parent-child relationship unless a court orders otherwise. There are four common circumstances under which a court might appoint a legal guardian (other than a parent) for a minor child, including:
- If both parents are deceased.
- If both parents are incapacitated or the only parent able and willing to care for the child is incapacitated.
- The child has been abandoned.
- The parents are unable to care for the child for any other reason. This typically refers to a situation where addiction, mental health, or abuse/neglect prevent the parent(s) from properly caring for the child.
Once appointed by the court, a legal guardian has a legal duty to provide supervision, protection, and assistance to the minor child. As a guardian, you may be charged with the physical (day-to-day) care of the minor child and/or be responsible for the assets/finances of the minor child.
Who Will a Judge Consider When Appointing a Guardian for a Minor Child?
All decisions made by a judge relating to a minor child must be made using the “best interest of the child” standard. The law, however, does prioritize potential guardians for a minor child (assuming the parents are not able to act as guardians) as follows:
- A person designated in the Last Will and Testament of the natural parents
- Adult siblings
- Closest relatives
- Other persons
What that means is that if the child’s parent(s) nominated you to be the child’s guardian in a Last Will and Testament, and the court is satisfied that you are a suitable guardian, you would have the best chance of being appointed as the child’s guardian. Proving that you are a “suitable” person to have guardianship over the child requires convincing the court that you are physically, emotionally, and financially stable and that you can provide a safe and healthy home for the child until he/she reaches the age of majority.
What Are the Steps Involved in Becoming a Minor Child’s Guardian?
To become a child’s legal guardian, the court must first establish that a guardian is needed and that appointing you would be in the best interest of the child. That requires a legal process that begins with filing a petition in the appropriate court. Close relatives of the child must be notified that the petition has been filed and may object to your appointment. If the child is at least 12 years old, the child may also support or object to your appointment. The court will also likely appoint a Guardian Ad Litem whose job is to represent the best interest of the child during the proceedings and order a home study to determine if your home is suitable for the child. Because the legal process of becoming the guardian of a minor child can be an emotional and sometimes adversarial process, it is best to work closely with an experienced family law attorney.
Contact Murfreesboro Family Lawyers
If you have questions or concerns about how to become the legal guardian of a minor child in Tennessee, contact Murfreesboro family lawyers to discuss your options. Contact the team at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.