Legal Guardianship of Minors in North Carolina

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Legal Guardianship of Minors in North Carolina

By Christine Funk, J.D.

In North Carolina, minors, or anyone under the age of 18, must be cared for by a parent or guardian, except under rare exceptions such as the emancipation of that minor. Typically, a parent or parents are responsible for the underage child.

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However, there are certain situations where this is not possible. These situations include military deployment, jail/prison, termination of parental rights due to unfitness, death or incapacitation of both parents, and abandonment.

Forms of Guardianship

When a child does not have a parent to care for them, the court appoints someone else to assist. There are two different needs that they can meet according to North Carolina law, which results in three different forms of guardianship.

Guardian of the Child

If the child needs someone to stand in as a parent, the court appoints a third party to take responsibility of the minor person. This person has the authority to make decisions regarding the child's medical care, education, safety, extracurricular activities, and all other parental duties.

Guardianship of the Estate

In other cases, a child needs someone to manage their assets. If a child has a considerable amount of wealth, the appointed person cares for the assets until the child is 18. Such assets may include stocks and bonds, cash in savings or checking accounts, rental property, or other items of value. Children are not considered responsible enough to manage this type of wealth, and thus, appointing someone else is necessary.

In many circumstances, the child's parent is the guardian of the property. However, if a parent does not have the financial acumen to manage the assets or doesn't want the responsibility, the court can assign someone else for the minor's "estate."

Responsibility of the Child and the Estate

In other situations, a child needs both parental supervision and asset management. Sometimes, the court appoints one person to manage the child's financial assets and their upbringing.

However, there is nothing that requires a court to assign a single guardian. In many cases, the person best suited to manage a child's assets is not the same person who is best suited to manage the child's upbringing. Consequently, even if a child has a need for both, the court may appoint separate people for the distinct tasks.

Appointing a Third Party

A parent can identify someone in their will or trust. In North Carolina, a parent can appoint a standby guardian for their minor child. This individual steps once a parent becomes incapacitated and no longer able to care for the child. This may be appropriate if a parent is struggling with chemical dependency or suffering from a fatal or potentially fatal illness, such as cancer. If the parent recovers and becomes once again competent to raise their own child, the third party authority is suspended indefinitely unless or until the parent again becomes unable to care for the child.

The Power of the Court

While a parent has the right to identify a third party to take responsibility for their child or their child's estate, the courts are not bound by this decision. Instead, courts in North Carolina are legally required to perform an analysis to determine what is in the best interests of the child in each case. However, if the parents identify a qualified individual, courts are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of the parents.

If you need to find a third party to become a guardian, whether temporary or permanently, of your minor child, ensure that you follow the rules and regulations of the state of North Carolina. It's most important to keep your child's best interests in mind when doing so.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.