Self-Help Law Center

Before the Case

Guardianship is a court proceeding in which a judge gives someone who is not the parent:

  • custody of a child, or
  • the power to manage the child's property, money or funds, or
  • both.

The child, called "the minor" or "the ward," is any person under 18 years of age.

There are 2 types of guardianship.

  • Most cases go to probate court.
  • But if the child is a dependent or a ward of the juvenile court, guardianship must be decided in juvenile court.

NOTE: If Children and Family Services (CFS) is involved, go to Juvenile Court Guardianship.

If CFS is not involved, this website will help you learn what to do.

IF THERE IS AN EMERGENCY - if the child needs immediate medical treatment, for example, or needs to be enrolled in school -- you can ask the court to appoint a "Temporary Guardian." Get information about how to do that.

NOTE: If a child goes to live with a court-appointed guardian, the child's parents or grandparents will not automatically have the right to visit the child. Learn more about visitation rights.

For free and low-cost legal help in California:

Go to the California Courts for help from these groups below.

  • Court-based self-help services
  • Legal aid agencies and other non-profit groups
  • Government agencies
  • Lawyer-referral services and bar associations
  • Dispute resolution programs

Some other resources or options to consider include:

Find Judicial Council Guardianship forms and instructions.

You can also print out a "Guardianship Pamphlet" (GC-205) (for guardianships of children in the probate court) produced by California's Administrative Office of the Courts:

When papers are filed in a court requesting appointment of a guardian for a child, the court hearing will usually be held about 45 days later.

The following timeline is offered simply to convey the information that this process has a beginning, a middle and an end. If exact details are required -- about how the days are counted, for example - it might be good to consult a lawyer.

One possible way a case might proceed....

Below is a description of the stages of a Guardianship Case. Get a sample chart. Or, read a timeline.

A. The person asking to be appointed as guardian starts the paperwork:

  • Get forms needed from the courthouse or from the internet.
  • Fill out the forms - have them checked by a court clerk.
  • Make 2 copies of all of the paperwork.
  • File the paperwork at the court (the original plus a copy.) Receive case number and hearing date from the court clerk.

B. The proposed guardian has to pay fees to file the paperwork - or get the fees waived (cancelled).

  • The fee waiver form is filed at the same time as the petition to be appointed guardian;
  • The judge usually decides within 5 days if the fee waiver is granted;
  • If the fee waiver is not approved, the fees must be paid within 15 days of first filing.

C. The proposed guardian has to make sure everyone involved is served (receives copies) of the guardianship petition papers and notice of the date and place of the hearing.

  • The guardianship papers have to be served at least 15 days before the hearing;
  • Notice of the hearing's date and place to be served at least 15 days before the event.
  • Please remember papers are to be served to relatives - and to government agencies.
  • Also remember that it is necessary to prove that all of the paperwork was received.
  • If you are not sure what to do, you may want to consult a lawyer.

D. Both the proposed guardian and the parent need to gather together the "evidence" that will be needed in court - the child's birth certificate and school records, for example.

E. The people who are served with notice of the hearing have to return the court form sent with it at least 20 days before the hearing date.

F. Both the proposed guardian and the parent need to cooperate with the court investigators, who will come to their homes and make reports to the judge.

G. It is possible that people - family, friends or neighbors - might be asked to come to the court hearing to answer questions the judge might have.

H. Everyone involved in the case is expected to attend the hearing - unless he or she has called the court clerk and made arrangements to "appear" by telephone.

I. After the hearing, the person appointed as the guardian has to file the "Letters of Guardianship" and the "Order Appointing Guardian of Minor" with a court clerk as soon as possible.

Asking the Court to decide who should get custody of a child will cost some money. Exact amounts will differ from case to case, from person to person, from court to court, and from year to year. If specific information is required, it might be good to consult a lawyer.

General costs:

  • Time off work
  • Getting to and from the courthouse
  • Telephone charges
  • Mailing
  • Hiring a lawyer
  • Self-help books

Getting started with the proceedings:

  • Printing or buying form packets
  • Court filing fees (unless you get a fee waiver).
  • Costs for "Service of Process:" hiring a professional process service, using the sheriff's office for personal service, or paying postage costs for service by mail

Investigation and preparation:

  • Court investigator
  • If someone doesn't agree with the guardianship, this means the case is "contested." In this situation, the court may order an investigation. This could cost a lot of money.
  • Certified copies of documents. Such documents might include:
    • Child's birth certificate;
    • Juvenile court proceedings;
    • Divorce papers;
    • Adoption papers;
    • Medical or death records; or
    • School records.

Trial or hearing stage:

  • Court reporter
  • If the trial has to be postponed or continued, there might be more court fees.

After the trial:

  • If guardianship is granted, there are costs for getting certified copies of the "Letters of Guardianship" (the legal proof of guardianship).
  • If the guardian moves with the child to another county in California, or another state in the United States, they must pay transfer fees.