Self-Help Law Center

During the Case

If you are the person who wants to become the guardian of a child, it is your responsibility to make sure that you fill out, file, and serve the correct court forms. If you are a child over the age of 12, you can be the person who asks the court to appoint a guardian. You will need to fill out, file, and serve the correct court forms.

The court will do an investigation and schedule a hearing. Be sure to go to your hearing.

To ask the court to appoint you to be the legal guardian of a child you need to get and fill out the following forms to start the legal proceedings:

  • Confidential Guardian Screening Form (Probate Guardianship) (Form GC-212)
    See the instructions for this form.
  • Duties of Guardian and Acknowledgment of Receipt (Form GC-248)
    See the instructions for this form.
  • Petition For Appointment of a Guardian (Form GC-210 (P))
  • Child Information Attachment (Form GC-210(CA))
  • Parental Notification of Indian Status (Form ICWA-020)
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And
    Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
    (Form FL-105/GC-120)
    See the instructions for this form.
  • Consent of Guardian, Nomination, and Waiver of Notice (Form GC-211)
  • Order Appointing Guardian of Minor (Form GC 240)
  • Letters of Guardianship (Form GC-250)
  • Notice of Hearing (Form GC-020)

For a checklist list of forms that are needed to start a guardianship case in English or Spanish, called "Forms You Need to Ask the Court to Appoint a Guardian of the Person" (GC-505), click on the language you need.

After you have filled out all of the forms, you have to file them at the clerk's office at the courthouse.

NOTE: You may not need all of these forms, or you may need more forms. Find local court forms you may need by going to your county's court website. Find out if your county's court has a Probate Examiner. If you're not sure which forms to use, talk with a lawyer. Get help finding a lawyer.

Once you have filled out your forms to the best of your ability, make 3 photocopies of each form:

  • make two copies for you to keep, and
  • one extra copy for the court (the court will take the original of the form plus one copy that they will deliver to the court investigator for you.)

Now you are ready to take them to the courthouse to be filed.

  • Take the original and all three copies of your court forms to the clerk's office. Give them to the clerk. The clerk will stamp the forms to show that they have been filed. The clerk will keep the original copy of each of your court forms plus one copy. The clerk will give two sets of copies back to you.

Get a list of courthouses and their locations in California.

You will have to pay a filing fee. You can call the clerk's office before you go to find out the fee, and how you can pay.

  • Get information on filing fees in California.
  • If you cannot afford the filing fees, there are forms, called "Fee Waiver" forms, you may file to ask if the judge will allow you to pay less or nothing at all.

Once a "Petition for Guardianship form" has been filed with the court, the court clerk will assign a case number and set a hearing date.

  • This case number will be used by the court system to keep track of the proceeding. This number will be on all papers filed in the case.
  • Hearing dates are usually set within approximately 45 days after filing.
  • If you feel the situation is an emergency and can't wait for the normal time, read about Temporary Guardianship.

After papers have been filed in court, copies of these papers are to be given to all of the people involved. This procedure is called "service of process" and is very important.

"Service of Process" means that when a lawsuit is filed, the defendant or respondent has the absolute right to be told about it - in time to go to court and tell the judge his or her side of the story before the judge makes a decision. This is a basic right guaranteed by the United States Constitution. It is sometimes called "due process."

In guardianship cases, copies of court documents have to be given to quite a lot of people and it is your responsibility, as the petitioner, to make sure that this is done. It is called "service."

To read an information sheet called, "What is 'Proof of Service' in Guardianship?" (GC-510), click on the language you need.

What needs to be served?

When you start the case, you need to have a copy of the following filed forms served:

  • Petition for Appointment of a Guardian (Form GC-210(P))
  • Notice of Hearing (Form GC-020)
    And - if appropriate:
  • Order Appointing Temporary Guardian (Form GC-140)

Who has to be served?

The law is very specific about who gets their copies and how. (See California Probate Code, Section 1511)

1. By personal service (hand delivered):

  • both of the parents of the child (or the person with legal custody of the
    child now);
  • any person the parents have nominated to be guardian of the child;
  • the child, if he or she is more than 12 years old.

2. By first class mail (called service by mail)

  • all of the child's grandparents - on both sides of the family (mother's parents and father's parents);
  • all of the child's brothers and sisters (or half-brothers and half-sisters, from either parent);
  • any adult with whom the child is living.
  • the Indian custodian or tribe, if the child is of Native American ancestry.

NOTE: If any of these people has died, list their name in the petition and write "deceased" next to it.

Learn what to do if you can't find some of the people you are supposed to have served.

Also - If the proposed guardian is not related to the child by blood or marriage, a copy of the court papers has to be "served" by mail at least 15 days before the hearing date to:

The State Department of Social Services
744 P Street, MS-67
Sacramento, CA 95814

When do the papers have to be served?

The papers have to be served at least 15 days before the hearing on the petition for the appointment of the guardian.

Who can serve the papers?

You cannot serve your own papers. You have to ask another adult who is over the age of 18 years, and who is not involved in the case, to serve the papers for you. This could be a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, and so on.

There are also professional process servers whom you could hire. This may be a good choice, for example, if one of the parents lives out-of-state and yet the papers have to be personally served on him or her.

The person who serves the documents has to complete one Proof of Service form for each person served and return it to you for filing with the court.

When do you need to consult with a lawyer?

There are special rules you must follow if you are having a difficult time serving the court papers. For this reason, consider consulting with a lawyer to help you if:

  • The parent is in the military;
  • The parent is in jail;
  • The parent lives in another state; or
  • If you are having a difficult time serving the papers for any other reason.

Find a lawyer.

The judge cannot hear your court case until you have filed your court forms properly, given (served) copies of these forms to all of the people who have a right to know what is going on, and then filed a form that shows that someone over the age of 18 who is not connected to the court case served those forms on all of the people involved.

Proof of Service

To prove to the court that everyone has been served in the right way, the person who served these forms must fill out one of the following forms for each person served and then give those forms back to you:

For personal service, the person must fill out and sign one:

  • Proof of Personal Service (Form GC-020(P)) for each person served.
    This would be for:
    • the parents of the child (or the person with legal custody of the child now),
    • any person the parents have nominated to be guardian to the child,
    • the child, if he or she is more than 12 years old.
NOTE: If the server delivers papers to more people than can be listed on this form, ask the server to add the names of the additional people served on Attachment to Notice of Hearing Proof of Personal Service(Form DE-120(PA)/GC-020(PA))
For service by mail, the person must fill out and sign one:

  • Proof of Service by Mail (Notice of Hearing) (Form GC-020) for each person served. This would be for:
    • the child's grandparents,
    • the child's brothers and sisters (or half-brothers and half-sisters, from
    • either parent),
    • any adult with whom the child is living,
    • the State Department of Social Services, if the potential guardian is not related to the minor by blood or marriage.
    • the Indian custodian or tribe, if the child is of Native American ancestry.
NOTE: If there are more than four persons being served by mail, continue the list of persons served by mail on an Attachment to Notice of Hearing Proof of Service by Mail (Form DE-120(MA)/GC-020(MA))
NOTE: If a person who should have been served could not be found, one Declaration of Due Diligence form must be filed for each person not located. Learn how to create a "Declaration of Due Diligence."

File Your Proof of Service

  • You must make one copy of each Proof of Service form or Declaration of Due Diligence form and take these to the court clerk. The clerk will file and stamp all of the forms. The court will keep the original of each form, and will give the copies of these forms back to you.
  • KEEP YOUR COPY OF EACH PROOF OF SERVICE IN A SAFE PLACE and take it to any court hearing that has been scheduled in this case.

Next, a court investigator will study the case.

Meanwhile, there are things you can do to prepare for your court hearing.

Go to the next tabs to get a checklist to use to prepare for court on your hearing date and to learn what will probably happen in court.

After a guardianship case is filed, a court investigator will do a background check. If no one is against the request to appoint a guardian, the court investigator will probably not be involved further.

However, if someone is against the request, that means the case is contested. In that situation, the court may order an investigation before the hearing. This will help the judge decide who should have custody of the child.

The investigation will possibly include:

  • A visit to the homes of the possible guardian and the parents. The visit will look at things that affect the best interests of the child, such as: how clean is the home, is there room for the child in the home, what is the atmosphere of the home, and is the child comfortable in the home.
  • How well the child is doing with both the possible guardian and the parents,
  • Interviews with the parents, the proposed guardian and the child.
  • Interviews with doctors, therapists, teachers, other case workers, friends, and any other people who have information about the best interests of the child
  • If the child is of Native American/American Indian ancestry, then the investigator will also work with the child's tribe to get more information.

After the investigation, the investigator will write up a report. The investigator will summarize for the judge the social history of the child, the interviews, and information about the home visits. The investigator will explain his or her concerns about each home. The report will also include a recommendation for a plan that he or she believes is in the child's best interests.

NOTE: A court investigation costs around $800.00. The potential guardian or the parents may be required to pay all or some of this cost. The court investigators will usually recommend who should pay the investigation fees.

It may be possible that your county's court has a local form that can be used to ask the court to allow all or part of this fee to be paid later.

In California, guardianship hearings take place in a courtroom. These hearings are often very short (sometimes as little as 10-15 minutes), so you really need to plan ahead if you want to give the judge your information before he or she makes a decision. To get ready
for your court hearing:

Know Your Own Case

  • Read the court papers carefully. Understand what you asked for, and what the other party has asked for in their papers.
  • Before your own hearing, summarize, organize and write down the key points you want to tell the judge. Try to make it as clear and simple as you can. Be ready to explain why the judge should approve (or not approve) each request. Practice speaking a few times - if you can, practice in front of friends or family.
  • Make an outline listing your reasons for each request and how the other named party responded. This will help you to speak to the judge if you get nervous in court.
  • Be sure to focus on the issues that are the reason your court date was scheduled. The judge cannot address issues that are not identified in the original paperwork filed to request the hearing. If you have other problems to resolve, you can schedule a separate hearing for that purpose.
  • Get ready to bring copies of all of your paperwork with you to court, including:
    • Copies of everything you've filed with the court concerning your case,
    • Copies of everything that has been served on you in this case, and
    • Any other paperwork that is related to your case.
    • Also bring a copy of an documents you have filed recently to show the judge - just in case the paperwork did not make it into the file.

Find out Where to go and What These Cases are Like

  • Learn how to be on time for all court dates. Look on a map and find out where the courthouse is. Learn the schedules of the buses that will get you to the courthouse, or figure out what roads would be best if driving. Learn where to park.

  • It may be a good idea to go to the family court and observe another guardianship hearing before going to yours so that you can get a better idea of what to expect.

NOTE: If you know ahead of time that you are unable to attend the hearing in person, there may be a possibility for you to arrange to participate by telephone. Call the court clerk in your county for information and to make the necessary arrangements.

Know What to Do at Your Court Hearing

  • Arrange for childcare for your children. Children are not allowed in the courtroom.
  • Arrange for an interpreter if you will need one. You may use an adult friend or relative to interpret for you.
  • Plan to dress for your court date as if going to a job interview. If you are coming from or going to work, your uniform or work clothes are fine. Make sure that you have made an effort to be neat, clean, and well groomed.

In California, guardianship hearings take place in a courtroom in front of a judge or a commissioner. In the same courtroom there will also be a court clerk and a bailiff, and usually other people in the room. For example, there may be people waiting for their case to be heard.

Special Note: The following are general guidelines. The actual rules may be different in each court, so learn your county's local rules of court on trial procedures. Find your county's court website.

When your case is called, the judge will speak to you and the other people involved. Then the judge will make a decision about assigning a legal guardian based upon many considerations including:

  • what is in the child's best interests and what is best for the welfare of the child, and,
  • if the child is 12 or older, the judge will also consider the child's preferences as to who will be appointed guardian.

There may be more than one court hearing before the case is settled.

For example, the judge cannot hear the case if there is not one Proof of Service (or Declaration of Due Diligence) filed for each person who has a right to know that the case is being heard. Or, the judge may order the potential guardian and the parent to go to mediation to solve some of their issues before a final decision is made.

At the hearing when the final decision is made on the guardianship petition, the judge may:

  • appoint the petitioner as guardian,
  • decide there is no need for a guardian, or
  • decide that someone else should be appointed as the guardian.

If all paperwork is correctly completed and the judge has made a decision, he or she will sign a court order clearly stating what that decision is.

ALERT! The case is not finished yet. See After the Court Hearing for what's next.

NOTE: Visitation is not automatically addressed in the guardianship proceeding. It is up to one of the people involved to raise the issue. Before the hearing, it would be good if the potential guardian and the parent attempted to reach an informal agreement regarding a visitation schedule for the parent and the child. If this doesn't work out, at the first hearing on the guardianship the parent may tell the judge he or she would like visitation with the child. Get more information about visitation.

  • Dress neatly and respectfully.
  • Take all of the documents that will be needed to show to the judge. Be sure you have copies for the other side.
  • If you intend to call witnesses (other than you and the other side), and have filed and served a witness list, arrange for your witnesses to be present at court. Make sure they know where to go and that they allow plenty of time to find the courtroom. Give your witnesses a copy of this page so that they know what to expect.
  • Be on time. Allow extra time for traffic or other possible delays. (If you are delayed or unable to attend the hearing due to a car breakdown, sudden illness, or other emergency, contact the department clerk on or before your hearing time.)
  • Turn off your cell phone and/or pager when you enter the courtroom.
  • When your case is called, walk to the table or podium in front of the judge and stand facing the judge.
  • Be prepared to state your name and your relationship to the case.
  • Speak clearly and loud enough that the judge can hear you. Speak only when it is your turn.
  • When you speak to the judge, act respectfully and call him or her “your honor.” Be sure never to interrupt the judge.
  • Answer all of the judge’s questions and stop talking immediately if the judge interrupts you.
  • If you don’t understand something, say that you don’t understand. Someone will try to explain it for you.