How to Grant Short-Term Temporary Guardianship of Your Children

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Sometimes, life events make it impossible for you to care for your children the way you would like. Enter: temporary guardians. With temporary guardianship, parents can assign a family member or trusted friend to manage their child's care for a short period of time.

Luckily, signing over temporary guardianship isn't that hard to do, and it can protect your children for brief stretches when you are unavailable or unable to provide day-to-day parenting. Because life sometimes throws us curveballs, it's important to know all the steps involved in choosing and appointing a temporary guardian.

What Is Temporary Guardianship?

With responsibilities that lie somewhere between permanent guardians and caregivers, temporary guardians care for all of your child's needs for a short, predetermined period of time. They live with your kids, provide daily structure, and if necessary, make time-sensitive medical decisions.

Each state has individual laws about how long a temporary guardian can be in charge of care for your child and what types of decisions those guardians have the power to make without consulting you. Temporary guardianship is intended to last for a few months to a year at most.

Typically, temporary guardianship is sought out by single parents who don't have a co-parent to rely on. The secondary parent may be unknown, deceased, or have had their parental rights terminated for some reason. If the child's other parent is alive and has known whereabouts but is unable or unwilling to step in, states usually require that they put that in writing as part of temporary guardianship paperwork.

If you know you're going to be unavailable to parent for only a matter of weeks, you may wonder whether officially signing over temporary guardianship is really necessary. Technically, it's not. However, there are some significant advantages to establishing temporary guardianship with someone you trust:

  • Avoiding conflict: Formally assigning a temporary guardian will help to prevent any potential conflicts over who is in charge of taking care of your children while you are gone.
  • Efficient medical decision-making: Officially making someone a temporary guardian may allow them to quickly approve medical treatment if your child becomes ill or injured in your absence.
  • Setting limits: Filing paperwork allows you to set legally bound limits on how long the temporary guardian will be "in charge" of your child.

Though it requires paperwork and planning, establishing temporary guardianship can help set boundaries for the caregiving arrangement and allows your chosen guardian to make quick medical decisions for your child when necessary.

Reasons to Sign Over Temporary Guardianship

There are several life events that might prompt a parent to explore temporary guardianship for their child. Some of the reasons to appoint a temporary guardian include:

  • Extended work travel: Parents who know that their work will take them on the road for an extended period of time might appoint a temporary guardian to keep a child in their own home or school without having to move.
  • Military service: Single parents in the military might need to designate a temporary legal guardian for their kids in order to provide for their care during deployment.
  • Medical emergencies or needs: An accident, surgery, long-term illness, or substance use treatment can all temporarily prevent parents from being able to care for kids. A temporary guardian can step in until parents get back on their feet.

Who Will Take Care of Your Children?

Choosing the right temporary guardian is important to make sure the transition between caretakers is as minimally disruptive to kids' routines as possible. When choosing a temporary guardian, consider your child's daily needs, age and stage of development, and personality type. The following individuals frequently step in as temporary guardians:

  • Grandparents: Grandparents and older adults often shine as temporary guardians to not-yet-mobile babies and independent teenagers. Busy toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school kids may demand more energy and transportation than an older grandparent can provide.
  • Aunts, uncles, or other adult family members: An adult family member who is close in age to you can be a great choice to be a temporary guardian. Just be sure that they have the time and space to care for your kids. Sleeping on the couch for a weekend is no big deal, but if you anticipate needing to assign temporary custody for a while and the caregiver won't be caring for your child in your home, you'll want your child comfortably accommodated.
  • A friend or neighbor: The obvious answer might be to look for a fellow parent who lives close by. But you don't need to exclude friends and relatives who haven't had children. What's more important than parenting experience is a willingness to give your kids' the care and attention they need.

How to Give Temporary Guardianship

The steps you will take to appoint a temporary guardian depend on where you live. The process usually starts by filling out the appropriate temporary guardianship forms, which may require additional signatures or a copy of your child's birth certificate. You can find these forms by calling your state or local county court or searching its webpage. The National Association of Counties has a handy local court finder.

Some states just ask that temporary guardianship agreement forms are notarized, allowing you to avoid court. But other states require that parents file this petition in person at their local probate or family court. Attorneys are not usually required to present a temporary guardianship petition in court, but you may choose to hire one to review your paperwork and consult if any problems arise.

If you have trouble figuring out what your own state requires you to do to establish a temporary guardian, you can reach out to a state representative who can guide you. The Child Information Welfare Gateway lists guardianship support advisors by state.

You can make a relative or trusted friend a temporary guardian with these steps:

  1. Pick up or print out a temporary guardianship agreement form your local probate or family court.
  2. Fill the form out completely, checking to see if you need to attach birth certificates or additional signatures. If your child has a second living parent with known whereabouts who cannot step in themselves, they will need to sign off on the temporary guardianship petition, too.
  3. Have the temporary guardianship form notarized. This essential step assures anyone receiving the form (such as medical personnel) that it is indeed your signature on the form.
  4. Check with your local court to see if a notarized agreement can simply be filed or whether a court date to formally present the petition is required.

Terminating a Temporary Guardianship Early

You may want to end a temporary guardianship arrangement earlier than anticipated. Maybe your work demands change or you bounce back quickly from a health issue. If the temporary guardian agrees, the process is usually simple. Typically, you submit a petition to the same family or probate court you filed your initial paperwork with, explaining the reasons why you are able to resume your normal parenting responsibilities.

The process can be more complicated when there's friction with the temporary guardian: They think you aren't yet fit to parent or you believe your child has been mistreated and should be appointed a different guardian, for instance. In this case, a court hearing might be required for a judge to determine what guardianship arrangement is best for your child.

A Word From Verywell

Handing your child's care off to someone else, even for a short period of time, is never an easy choice. But sometimes, it's the selfless and smart one—for yourself and your child. Appointing someone you know and trust to care for your kids when you cannot will provide you peace of mind and your children the safety and comfort they deserve.

The process of formally appointing a temporary guardian in these circumstances does take a bit more effort than, say, asking a favor of a friend. But it also establishes important parameters for the caregiving arrangement, reduces the chance of misunderstandings, and empowers your chosen guardian to act fast in an emergency to get your child the help they need. When arranged with thought and care, temporary guardianship can be a rewarding experience for yourself, your child, and the generous individual who embraces this important responsibility.

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Article Sources
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  1. Grandfamilies (The American Bar Association/Center on Children and the Law). Care & Custody - Summary and Analysis.

  2. Family Law Self-Help Center. Guardianship.

  3. Adetayo T, Nyakotey R, Orloff L. State Law Definitions of Termination of Guardianship. National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project. Published February 2018.