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 to. Enter temporary guardians. In 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 that make caring for kids hard, 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 with you first. 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 is usually 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 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 which 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 abuse treatment can all prevent parents from being able to care for kids for a time. 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, their age and stage of development, and their personality type. The following individuals frequently step in as temporary guardians in kids' lives:

  • Grandparents: Seniors 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: A grown-up 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 to care for your kids—and the space. Sleeping on the couch for a weekend is no big deal, but if you anticipate needing to assign temporary custody for awhile, 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 even 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 depends on where you live. The process usually starts by filling out a temporary guardianship agreement form, 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.

How to Give Temporary Guardianship

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 to formally present the petition is required.

A Word From Verywell

Handing your child 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 does establish important parameters for the caregiving arrangement, reduce the chance of misunderstandings, and empower 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. Short-Term Temporary Guardianship.