New Washington State Law Replaces Nonparental Custody with Legal Guardianship
Washington State recently adopted new legislation that allows an individual to request “minor guardianship” rather than file for nonparental custody. This new law changes the court process by which an individual can apply for legal guardianship of a child, but doesn’t affect nonparent custody cases in which a final order has been entered.
Minor guardianship is a legal arrangement made by the court in which a person other than the child’s parent is given the authority to care for and make decisions for the child. A case for legal guardianship can be commenced by the individual seeking guardianship, a person who is concerned for the welfare of the child or by the minor themselves.
A court will appoint a guardian for a minor if it is in their best interests. In addition, one of these circumstances must be met:
- Each parent agrees to the guardianship
- Parental rights have been terminated
- Neither parent is able or willing to perform their parenting functions as defined by Washington law
Similar to nonparental custody, the person granted minor guardianship will have physical custody of the child. There are, however, a few differences between minor guardianship and nonparent custody law. In a minor guardianship proceeding:
- The court may appoint a lawyer for a parent who objects to an individual’s request for guardianship if they cannot afford one.
- More people must be notified about the case than previously required.
- Children may have more rights than they had in a nonparental custody case.
- The procedure for obtaining court orders differs from a nonparent custody case.
- The person who files the petition can suggest that another individual should be the child’s guardian.
A guardian must act in a fiduciary capacity for the child and make decisions that are in the child’s best interests. Generally, a guardian will have the same authority that a parent would, allowing them to make decisions concerning the minor’s healthcare, safety, education and welfare.
In cases involving a minor guardianship, parents may also retain some rights when it comes to their child. Depending on the terms of the guardianship court order, parents may have visitation rights, make decisions about their child’s education and have access to their child’s records. If the court finds it appropriate, the minor may also be given certain decision-making rights.
Minor guardianship matters can be complex. It’s essential to have a skilled family law attorney to guide you through the process and protect your parental rights. Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. has been helping position clients throughout Washington towards achieving a positive outcome in their family law cases for more than 20 years. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at our Tacoma office.