How would life look for your children if they were suddenly left without parents? Who would be notified and how might they respond? Would they have the means to love and support your child until adulthood and beyond? As unsettling and difficult as it may be, parents must consider who would raise their children if they are unable to do so.
Many parents have taken time to appoint a “god mother,” close friend or family member to assume a parental role should tragedy strike at home. Unfortunately, this type of arrangement will not be recognized under the law without proper documentation in place ahead of time. Rightfully so! It makes sense that the authorities cannot simply take the word of another when it comes to guardianship of your child. In that case, the court must decide who’s the most suitable option to fill your shoes.
Spoiler alert: even the most seasoned family law judge cannot know who’s best suited to raise your child in a similar manner that you would. The best decision maker is you! Furthermore, when there are several qualified people petitioning the court for this role (i.e. contentious family members), it can turn into an expensive, drawn-out battle to obtain custody. Moreover, the emotional toll can be overwhelming for children already dealing with the loss of one or both parents.
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By planning ahead, you can make a significant different in your child’s life. If you wish to have your children raised in a loving environment that aligns with your values, then crafting detailed instructions in addition to naming the right guardian is imperative. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an appropriate legal guardian:
(1) Choosing the right candidates
Your first step in the process is to make a list of potential candidates most suitable for guardianship. At a minimum, these people should be better alternatives than your child being left in the custody and care of strangers within the foster care system. Even a loving person with modest financial means might be a good candidate, if you’ve provided for your child in advance with a life insurance policy. Your list should include both family and close friends so that alternates are available in the event your primary candidate has declined to serve in this role.
(2) Consider characteristics and lifestyle
Your second step is to consider the characteristics and lifestyle of potential guardians in comparison to your own. By doing so, you will naturally “filter” your candidates and create a prioritized list based on what is most important to you and the other parent (if applicable). Below is a partial list of factors:
- The willingness to raise your child
- Physical ability to raise your child
- Marital status
- Current location
- Social, moral, and spiritual values
- Stability and reliability
- Adequate time to commit to parenting
- Current relationship with your child
- Experience raising children
- Parenting methods and philosophy
(3) Prioritizing your candidates
The final step is to select a few people who closely align with your values and standards based upon the factors you listed in step two. You may have already begun to eliminate or rank potential guardians by simply writing down factors and names on the same sheet of paper. We encourage you to take your time with this step and consider various scenarios that may impact your decision on the best fit. For example, suppose the primary couple you choose suffers death or divorce, which of the two will continue as the guardian of your child? This mental exercise will add clarity to the selection process and help narrow your list of candidates.
(4) Temporary vs Long-term guardians
A step often overlooked in the process of naming guardians is the appointment of a short-term guardian. Perhaps the person you’ve selected to raise your children lives across the country and is not immediately available in the event of an emergency. In fact, it may take several hours or days for them to reach your child. A temporary guardian is a trusted, nearby individual who can respond quickly should something happen to you, your significant other, or both. This person could ensure your child is not left in presence of strangers while your long-term guardian is making arrangements to assume care. A well-known neighbor with an existing relationship with your child is often a wise choice.
Finally, if you desire additional help with weighing options and choosing the right guardian, please contact our office for a consultation or discussion. As lawyers and proud parents, we welcome your questions and can offer insight to this important process.