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Grandparent guardianship is a legal relationship between a grandparent and a minor child being cared for by that grandparent. The grandparent has certain rights and responsibilities under the law, including providing adequate care to the child and possibly managing any assets in the child's name as well. This option may be pursued when grandparents need to temporarily or permanently take over the care of their grandchildren for a variety of reasons, ranging from death of a parent to child abuse.
Guardianship and custody are closely related, although “custody” tends to be used to refer to people acting in a parental role. With both, it is necessary to go to court. In the case of grandparent guardianship, the grandparent files a guardianship petition in the court to ask for permission to legally take over the child's care and to receive certain rights that go along with caring for a child, including being able to claim the child as a dependent. Often, the parents support this petition, explaining why they are not able to care for their children.
Parental rights are not terminated in this case. One or both parents can file a petition asking for the grandparent guardianship to be revoked and to have their rights restored. The court will review the case to determine if the parents are fit and able to take over child care, and input from the grandparents can play an important role. If they support the petition, arguing that the parents are able to resume care, this is weighed heavily by the court.
A person with guardianship rights over a child can make day to day decisions, supervise medical care, and make other choices on behalf of a child. When parents are not available for any reason, having a guardian appointed can be very helpful for children who need assistance and guidance. One example of grandparent guardianship can be seen when parents take an extended trip and leave their children in the care of their grandparents; legally, a parent or guardian is needed for many activities, and awarding temporary guardianship to the grandparents will cover this need.
Guardians can have their privileges suspended if there are concerns that they are not providing an appropriate level of care. A grandparent guardian may lose the children if abuse or neglect are documented. In most regions, courts also refuse to grant grandparent guardianship to people with a history of child abuse or serious felonies, on the grounds that such individuals would not make fit guardians.