California Self-Help Law Center
Guardianship is a court process in which a person other than a parent is given custody of a child, or authority over a child's property. If you are over the age of 12, you can be the person asking the court to appoint a guardian for you. To do this, follow the instructions in the "Potential Guardian" section of the site. If this case is about you, the court will try to decide what's best for you.
In California, there are laws that define what is in the "best interest" of any child. This includes your right to be raised in a permanent, safe, stable and loving environment. (California Probate Code, Section 1610)
When determining what is in the your "best interests," a court would consider:
- Your health, safety and welfare;
- Any history of abuse by one parent or a person seeking custody of you;
- The habitual and/or continued use of controlled substances or alcohol by the person seeking custody of you, or by your parents;
- And other factors as presented to the court.
If the adults around you don't agree about what's in your "best interests" the court may send someone to talk to you and the adults around you.
If there's a hearing, the judge may want to talk with you. For help in preparing to go to court, read about Checklist for Preparing for the court hearing.
It's important that you understand what is happening to you and get the help you need.
If you would like to talk with someone about the court process, there's an organization called Legal Services for Children that might help.
Often, people involved in Guardianship cases need more than just legal help. Get some suggestions about where to get other help.
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. If exact details are required -- about how the days are counted, for example -- it might be good to consult a lawyer.
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.
- Time off work
- Getting to and from the courthouse
- Telephone charges
- 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.