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Updates to Iowa’s Guardianship Laws for Minors

Updated on
January 18, 2021
Article written by
Eugene Nassif

There are instances where both parents may not be able to take care of a child. In these instances, another person, many times family members or friends, can ask a court to grant them legal authority to take care of a child and make decisions for them. Under Iowa law, this person tasked with taking care of the child is called a guardian. 

 

For decades, minor guardianship proceedings have been governed by Iowa’s Probate Act. Beginning January 1, 2020, new law went into effect for guardianships. The new law is the “Iowa Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act.” This law imposes significantly more regulations and requirements for people seeking to become guardians of minors. It also offers additional protections for biological parents, proposed guardians and, most importantly, children. 

The single largest change is that minor guardianship cases will now be heard in juvenile courts instead of probate courts, where they were previously held. The law also makes significant changes to the filing, hearing and administrative process for guardianships.  

 

The following are notable changes that have been made to Iowa Guardianships: 

 

Court Appointed Counsel for Parents in Iowa

 

The court will now appoint an attorney to represent a parent if the parent doesn’t agree to the guardianship, cannot afford an attorney and requests the court appoint an attorney. 

 

Court Appointed Counsel for Child in Iowa

 

The court will now appoint an attorney to represent the child. The attorney’s job will be to advocate for the child, so long as the child is old enough to state their wishes. Should the child be too young for this, the attorney will advocate for the child’s best interest.  

 

Court Appointed Counsel to Assist the Court 

 

The court could also appoint a court visitor for the child. This court visitor can’t be the same person as the child’s attorney. The court visitor will meet with the child and explain the process to them, helping them determine what the child wants. The court visitor will also talk with the parents and the proposed guardian. They may visit the child’s home, review medical, educational and social service records, speak to teachers, doctors, and other providers. The court visitor will come up with a recommendation as to the guardianship and provide that to the judge.  

 

Background Checks for Guardianship in Iowa

 

All proposed guardians will now have to submit to a background check. This includes a criminal records search, child abuse registry check, a dependent adult abuse registry check and a sex offender registry check. The person filing for the guardianship will be responsible for the costs associated with this background check. However, a court may waive the fees for good cause. The judge will review the results of the background check and use it in deciding whether someone should be appointed guardian.  

 

Agreement on Responsibilities of Guardianship

 

If a biological parent agrees to the guardianship, the parent will have to sign a consent form and they must submit with the guardian an agreement that lays out the responsibilities of the guardian and the responsibilities for the parent(s). The agreement must state how long the parent and guardian want the guardianship to last.  

 

Guardianship Visitation in Iowa

 

A guardian has to get approval from the court before the guardian can deny visitation, communication or interaction between the minor and their parents. However, a guardian can place some restrictions on the time place and manner of visitation between the child and their parents without approval of the court.  

 

Court Costs for Guardianship Proceedings

 

In some cases, the biological parents may have to pay for some of the costs associated with the guardianship proceeding. 

 

Parental Termination of a Guardianship in Iowa

 

Additionally, under the new Iowa law, biological parents can file petitions to terminate a guardianship. If the parent agreed to the original guardianship, the court will terminate the guardianship if the parent is no longer in agreement unless terminating the guardianship would harm the child and the child’s interest in continuing the guardianship outweighs the parent’s interest in terminating the guardianship.  

 

If the parent didn’t agree to the original guardianship, the new Iowa law states that the parent must show that the guardianship should be terminated. Should the parent do this, the guardian must then prove by clear and convincing evidence that the guardianship shouldn’t be terminated.  


Updates to Iowa’s Guardianship Laws for Minors
Author

Eugene Nassif

Eugene Nassif is an associate attorney in Des Moines, Iowa. His primary focus is in business and civil litigation matters.

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