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Obtaining Guardianship Of A Minor In Indiana

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 15, 2020

In this article, we discuss guardianship of a minor in Indiana and answer the following questions:

  • What Type Of Guardianship Is Necessary?
  • How Do I Start The Guardianship Process?
  • What Happens At The Guardianship Hearing?
  • Once The Guardianship Is Finalized, Can It Be Ended At Any Time?

Not every child is lucky enough to grow up in a stable family situation, ignorant of the grief, hardship, or sorrow that comes with the loss of a parent due to death, incarceration, or abandonment. Furthermore, some children are the victims of abuse, neglect, or dependency and must be removed from their families to preserve their health and wellbeing. For these unfortunate children, there is hope in the form of guardianship. A guardian takes over most or all of the responsibilities of a parent, including housing, caring for the minor, and providing a source of education. A successful guardianship, whether temporary or permanent can mean the difference between a child growing into a responsible adult that contributes positively to society and one that does not.

What Type Of Guardianship Is Necessary?

Guardianships in Indiana are governed by Indiana Code 29-3-5, which describes the process and procedure for becoming a guardian. The first step in becoming a guardian is deciding what type of guardianship best fits the situation. Your attorney can help you with that portion if you’re unsure, or if you believe that you should have full (plenary) guardianship, but the court has denied your petition. The bottom line is guardianships come in four flavors: 1) permanent, 2) temporary, 3) limited, and 4) plenary/full/complete. However, every guardianship situation will be a combination of time, permanent or temporary, and authority, plenary or limited. Furthermore, limited and plenary guardianships usually deal more with minors and adults who have some degree of disability. An example of when each would be necessary is as follows:

  • Permanent Guardianship: The parents of a minor die or are unable to care for their child for some other reason. Most likely, whoever ends up as the minor’s guardian will be his or her permanent guardian.
  • Temporary Guardianship: A parent becomes too ill to care for the child, but has the chance to recover enough to care for the child in the future.
  • Limited Guardianship and Plenary Guardianship: Nearly all guardianships of a minor are considered plenary or complete unless the court finds that the minor has reached the age to make certain medical and financial decisions for themself. This is usually somewhere between 14 and 17 years of age. Much like a parent would have complete responsibility for a child’s health and financial decisions, so will a guardian.

How Do I Start The Guardianship Process?

Once you have a handle on what type of guardianship is appropriate, you can go to the court and file the guardianship petition. If you’re not sure what documents you need, you can ask the court clerk in your county. If you’re working with an attorney, he or she will complete the paperwork for you and any other additional supportive paperwork and evidence needed to complete the process.

What Happens At The Guardianship Hearing?

Once the petition is accepted, a guardianship hearing is set. At the hearing, you will need to present your argument and any evidence that supports your claim as the minor’s best option for a guardian. This can include anything from showing photos, of your time together, detailing your relationship to the child and the child’s parents and family, receipts of any purchases you made for the child, and your track record of caring for the child. Anyone who has a legal interest in the minor, such as close relatives and family members, can also make their case in support or opposition of you as a guardian. They can also argue why they would make a more appropriate guardian.

You should also be prepared to give testimony and present evidence that suggests the other parties are not the best candidate for the minor’s guardian. This could include negative documentation demonstrating a poor or abusive relationship between the minor and the family member, any criminal history of the other party, lack of stable employment by the other party your ability to better care for the child financially, and why it’s ultimately in his or her best interest for you to be the guardian.

At the end of the hearing, the judge will give her ruling and issue an order immediately or within a span of a few weeks. In issues of guardianship, the judge will typically attempt to place the minor as quickly as possible, thereby avoiding potential conflict.

Once The Guardianship Is Finalized, Can It Be Ended At Any Time?

Yes and no. Terminating a guardianship for whatever reason is a serious endeavor and should not be taken lightly. Protecting the minor and acting in his or her best interest is the top priority of the court. That being said, if there is a credible reason for terminating the guardianship, such as the minor getting to the appropriate age, the parent being able to care for the child (there is a wide range of scenarios here, and just because a parent becomes more responsible does not guarantee they will have their parental rights returned), the guardian being abusive, etc, then the legal process of terminating the guardianship is appropriate.

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