Guardianship is a legal arrangement established by a court in which a nonparent takes over the responsibilities of caring for a child. While a court may appoint a guardian if a child's parents are deceased, in many situations, the parents are simply unable to care for the child due to illness or substance abuse, or are unavailable for long periods of time due to military service or other work-related responsibilities. Guardianship generally terminates when the child reaches the age of 18, but may continue after that time if the child is mentally or physically disabled.
A judge establishes guardianship in situations where a child needs someone other than a parent to take responsibility for her care. Unlike adoption, guardianship does not require termination of the rights of the biological parents so it is often more appropriate for situations involving long-term care by foster parents or relatives. If appropriate, the parents may be able to maintain contact with the child, but the guardian has the right to limit contact if he determines it is harmful to the child.
Depending on the facts of the case, the judge may limit the powers of the guardian to managing financial matters, enrolling the child in school or whatever the situation demands. In most situations, however, guardians have the responsibility to support and care for the child, and to make whatever arrangements are needed to that end. For example, a grandparent appointed as guardian normally has a right to decide where the child will live, how to spend child support or government benefits payments, determine in what extracurricular activities the child will participate and with whom the child will visit.
Unless the judge ordered otherwise, a legal guardian has the right to travel out of state with the child for vacations and other purposes. A possible exception to this rule is travel designed to isolate the child from contact with others or to avoid contact with child protective services. The court may hold a hearing in those situations to examine the facts and determine if the guardianship should be transferred to another individual.
Unless the court orders otherwise, the guardian has the right to decide where the child will live within the state where the guardianship was established. However, different states have different rules regarding the procedure a guardian must follow if he wants to move the child to another state. In California, for example, if a guardian wants to move a child out of the state, he must file a petition and other paperwork with the court, then serve a copy of the documents on the minor if he is 12 years of age or older, his parents, siblings, grandparents and any other interested party who filed a request for special notice in the guardianship case. If any of these parties object to the move, the court determines if the move is in the best interests of the child.