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Understanding Legal Guardianship in North Carolina

legal guardian

When a custodial parent is unable to care for their minor child, it's necessary for legal guardianship to be established. If you are seeking to become a legal guardian in North Carolina, we're looking at what this entails, circumstances that may lead to its necessity, and the steps to establish guardianship.

What Is Legal Guardianship in NC

When the parents of a child under the age of 18 are unable to provide appropriate care, the court will establish legal guardianship. A legal guardian in North Carolina is responsible for the child's well-being and supervision, taking on the role of a parent. They are expected to provide the following:

  • Appropriate housing
  • Food and clothing
  • Ensure they are attending school
  • Making financial decisions and manages any estate
  • Ensuring medical treatment

Circumstances Necessitating Legal Guardianship

When a parent is unable to care for the child, a guardian must be named. In some cases, the child's parents may consent to guardianship or will name a person they want to care for their child in their will. Also, parents may recognize that they are unable to properly care for their child and it's in the child's best interests to have a guardian assume care. When parents choose or consent to a guardian, this can eliminate the need for a hearing to determine if a parent is suitable and make the process faster and less challenging.

Circumstances that may lead to guardianship include:

  • Death of parents
  • Incapacity of parents due to illness, injury, or mental health issue
  • Unstable or unsafe housing
  • Incarceration of one or both parents
  • Physical abuse or neglect by a parent
  • Military deployment
  • Substance abuse or addiction issues by the parents
  • Child abandonment

Are Child Custody and Legal Guardianship the Same?

Child custody and legal guardianship have the same expectations of providing proper care for the child. However, the term child custody is only applied to the child's natural parents. Any other family member, friend, or foster parent would be considered a legal guardian. Also, unless the parent passes away or severs their relationship legally, the natural parent still retains their rights as a parent and can re-assume custody when circumstances improve.

However, a legal guardian can file to adopt the child and become the permanent, legal parent of the child. This is challenging while the parent is alive but in certain cases in which the court terminates parental rights, the legal guardian may be able to adopt the child. This most often happens in foster situations in which the parent is unable to assume care for the child and the state revokes parental rights.

How to Establish Becoming a Legal Guardian

In order to assume guardianship of a minor child, an application with the County Clerk must be completed. Often, hearings must take place to determine if the parents are or are not fit to retain custody of their child and if you are fit to step into the role. Having a family law attorney to represent your interests is necessary to prevent mistakes in the paperwork that could slow down the process and help you navigate the complicated process of assuming guardianship.

Schedule a Consultation with a Family Law Attorney in Raleigh Today

If you are considering filing to become a legal guardian in NC, our team of experienced family law attorneys in Raleigh can help you achieve your goals. To schedule a consultation, reach out to us today at (919) 301-8843 or fill out the form below to get started.

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