There are several reasons why you might find yourself caring for a child that is not your biological child. Regardless of the circumstances that brought you to where you are, you find yourself the child’s primary caregiver – or you are being asked to be the child’s primary caregiver. Acting as a child’s caregiver under an informal arrangement may work for a brief period; however, if the relationship is intended to last for an indefinite period of time it is in your best interest, and that of the child, to petition for legal guardianship. A Murfreesboro family law lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby offers a basic understanding of how guardianship of a minor child works in Tennessee.
What Is Guardianship of a Minor?
The biological parents of a minor child are considered the child’s natural legal guardians by virtue of the parent-child relationship. Sometimes, however, a child’s parents are unable or unwilling to act as the child’s guardian. This may be a temporary or permanent situation. In that case, another adult must be appointed to be the child’s legal guardian. For example, a minor child may need a guardian if:
- Both parents are deceased
- Incapacitation of one (or both) parent.
- One (or both) parents abandon the child.
- One (or both) parents are unable to care for the child for any other reason, such as addiction or mental health issues.
A legal guardian is someone appointed by the court to make personal decisions relating to the child. Typically, the child lives with his/her legal guardian. As guardian, you might make decisions such as where the child will live, what medical treatment the child will receive, and what school the child will attend. Keep in mind that unless you have been appointed the child’s legal guardian, you do not have the legal right to make these decisions even if you are related to the child and/or the child’s parent gave you permission to make them.
A legal conservator, also referred to as a guardian of the estate, is also appointed by the court to handle the financial affairs of a minor child. For example, if the child’s parents are deceased and the child was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, an adult must be appointed to manage those funds until the child reaches the age of majority. The court can appoint the same person(s) to be the child’s guardian and conservator or the court may appoint a separate conservator.
Who Can Be Appointed a Child’s Legal Guardian?
Tennessee Code §34-2-101 et seq. governs guardianship of a minor child in Tennessee. Any adult person may file for guardianship over a minor child; however, the law does give priority to the following people in order:
(1) The parent or parents of the minor.
(2) The person or persons designated by the parent or parents in a will or other written document.
(3) Adult siblings of the minor.
(4) Closest relative or relatives of the minor.
(5) Other person or persons.
As part of the guardianship process you will also need to prove to the court that you are physically and emotionally fit to care for the child as well as that you have the financial resources necessary to provide for the child’s maintenance. The court may order a home study to ensure that you have a safe home and that the home environment is the best place for the child. If the child in question is 12 years old or older, the court will also consider the child’s wishes when deciding who to appoint as the child’s guardian. Once appointed as a child’s guardian and/or conservator you may be required to report to the court on an annual basis and/or file inventories and accountings of how the child’s assets and income are being handled.
Contact a Murfreesboro Family Law Lawyer
If you have additional questions about filing for guardianship of a minor child, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro family law lawyer to ensure that the legal process runs as smoothly as possible. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.
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