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Generally speaking, the parents of a child are the child’s guardians. However, when a child’s parents are deceased, or are unwilling, unable or adjudged unfit to assume their parental duties, or if the parent have had their parental rights terminated under chapter 211, a guardianship with a fit and willing adult may be appropriate.
Guardianships are ordered by the court by a document which is called “Letters of Guardianship”. A guardianship will last until the child reaches the age of 18 years or the court changes its order. A guardianship is NOT a termination of parental rights. The parents may rectify the conditions which led to the appointment of the guardian and if the court determines it to be in the best interest of the child to terminate the guardianship, the court may do so.
A guardianship may also be appropriate in a more limited manner, such as to permit a child to complete their schooling in a particular school if the parents must move away during the child’s junior or senior year of high school and the parents and child reach agreement as to who will be responsible for the child.
When the court issues Letter of Guardianship, all of the parental decision making authority is transferred to the guardian including all decisions related to the general care, custody, control and upbringing of the child except that the guardian is not permitted to consent to the future adoption of the child. This means that the guardian appointed by the court can limit or prevent contact between the natural parent of the child and the child.
Because issuance of letters of guardianship results is such a significant transfer of responsibility, it is imperative that the parents be provided with notice of the hearing. This is accomplished usually through personal service of the petition for appointment of guardian upon each of the parents. In the alternative, the parents can consent to the appointment of the guardian.
In addition to ensuring the parents are properly notified of the proceedings, the court also takes steps to ensure the guardian is appropriate for the child. The court may require a criminal background check on the nominated guardian through the State Highway Patrol. The court may require a child abuse and neglect background check on the nominated guardian through the Children’s Divisions’ child abuse registry. The court may require a homestudy on the potential guardian. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interest of the child.
Guardianship actions are brought in the Probate court and are governed by Chapter 475 of the Probate Code. Each year on the anniversary of their appointment, guardians are required to file an annual report with the court advising the court of the status of the guardianship and the child. Should the guardian fail to act in the child’s best interest or fail to file an annual report, the court can hold a hearing and determine if the guardian should be removed.
To make an appointment, please call me at 816-256-5440.
I am available to help you in the following Missouri counties: Jackson, Clay, Platte, Cass , Buchanan, Andrew, Davies, Caldwell, DeKalb, Clinton, Atchison, Holt, and Nodaway.
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