Step 1 – Is a Minor Guardianship Necessary?
There are a myriad of reasons why a parent can no longer safely and/or adequately care for their children. In my law practice, I have seen addiction, domestic violence, mental health, and neglect cited as some of the reasons a parent is no longer able or willing to provide appropriate care for their children. Removing a child from a parent’s custody is always the last resort. Unfortunately, however, it is sometimes in the child’s best interest to do so. In Washington, our state adopted the Uniform Guardianship Act (UGA), which governs cases involving the guardianship of a minor. Under the UGA, a concerned individual can petition the court to have a guardian appointed for a minor if that petitioning party feels the child should be removed from the parent(s).
The court will appoint a guardian for the minor if (a) all parents consent, (b) all parental rights have been terminated, or (c) there is clear and convincing evidence that no parent of the minor is willing or able to exercise parenting functions as defined in RCW 26.09.004. The “clear and convincing” standard means the evidence must show that it is nearly certain that what is claimed to be true is true. However, the standard is not so high that the evidence must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which means it is 100% clear that what is claimed to be true is true.
There are 6 parental functions the court looks at, and they are as follows:
- Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
- Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
- Attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
- Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
- Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and,
- Providing for the financial support of the child.
Step 2 – Completing Forms and Filing for Minor Guardianship
When the time comes to file for minor guardianship, there are numerous forms the petitioning party must complete, file with the court, and serve on all interested parties. To begin the initial minor guardianship process, the petitioners must complete the following forms, which can all be found online for free at https://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/?fa=forms.static&staticID=14:
- Summons – GDN M 001
- Notice of Hearing about a Minor Guardianship Petition (including Notice Attachment) – GDN M 101
- Minor Guardianship Petition – GDN M 102
- Declaration Explaining Reasons for Minor Guardianship – GDN M 103
- Disclosure of Guardian or Conservator – GDN ALL 002
- Motion for DCYF Order – GDN M 404
- Order to DCYF to Release CPS Information – GDN M 405
- Criminal History Cover Sheet – GDN M 407
- Confidential Information Sheet – GDN M 410
Regarding the Notice of Hearing about a Minor Guardianship Petition, it is vital the petitioning party serves all required parties – not just the parents of the minor child. Please see my former blog post, titled, “What are the main differences between Minor Guardianship and Emergency Minor Guardianship?” for additional information regarding who to serve and how. Please also note that if the minor child is a member of a recognized Indian tribe, there are additional service requirements. As for when to schedule the hearing, you should ask that question directly to the clerk’s office, since your assigned judicial officer will be assigned once you file the petition.
Regarding the Criminal History Cover Sheet, each proposed minor guardian, and any adults living in the petitioner’s home, must submit a WATCH report. WATCH stands for “Washington Access to Criminal History,” and this is a report issued by the Washington State Patrol. You can find additional information on how to request the WATCH report here: https://www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/criminal-history/
In addition to the above-listed forms, petitioning parties must also complete a Lay Guardian Training. You can find a link to the free lay guardian training here: https://www.courts.wa.gov/content/webinar/minorLayGuardianship/content/index.html#/
Once you have completed the training, you need to file proof of completion. You can find a link to the Declaration of Completion of Guardian Training here: https://www.courts.wa.gov/programs_orgs/Guardian/Certifications/Minor%20Lay%20Guardian%20Certificate.pdf
If you believe you need custody of the minor children immediately to avoid potential and imminent harm to the children, as opposed to waiting until the first hearing, you should file the following additional forms:
- Motion for Immediate Order – Emergency Guardianship and Restraining order(Ex Parte) – GDN M 204
- Immediate Minor Guardianship Order (Ex Parte) and Hearing Notice – Emergency Minor – GDN M 205
You should file original versions of all necessary forms listed above with the Clerk’s Office at the Clark County Superior Courthouse, located at 1200 Franklin Street, Vancouver, WA, 98660. See immediately below for information about how many copies to make prior to filing. When you file your original versions with the Clerk’s Office, bring your copies with you. You need to stamp all copies with the case number and the “filed” stamp. The clerk can provide you with the case number stamp and the “filed” stamp. Once you have stamped your copies, they are considered “conformed copies,” and they are ready to be served.
Step 3 – Service and Proof of Service
After serving the appropriate documents on the people listed in Section 1 of the Notice Attachment, you should complete and file a Proof of Personal Service (GND ALL 007) with the Clerk’s Office. You do not need to serve that form on the other parties; filing it with the Clerk’s Office is sufficient.
Step 4 – Parental Consent (if any) and Appointment Following the Hearing
If either parent of the minor consents to the minor guardianship, that parent should complete the Parent’s Consent to Minor Guardianship – GDN M 304, and file it with the Clerk’s Office.
If the proposed guardians are appointed at the hearing, even if only temporarily, the court will complete an order appointing the proposed guardians. The proposed guardians must then complete and file the following forms:
- Acceptance of Appointment – GDN ALL 003
- Letters of Guardianship/Conservatorship – GDN ALL 004
The Letters need to be certified by the clerk. You can present the Letters to the clerk, and they will sign, stamp, and certify them. The Letters are the official document issued by the Clerk’s Office identifying you as the minor’s legal guardian until the expiration date listed on the Letters.
If the parents consent or they do not appear at the hearing and respond, the minor guardianship will most likely be approved. In that case, the minor guardians should complete the Minor Guardianship Findings and Order – GDN M 105, and submit it to the assigned judicial officer for their signature and entry by the clerk. If even one of the parents objects, the case will likely proceed to trial. Minor guardianship cases are a priority for the court, and trial dates are normally given only a couple of months out into the future (as opposed to other family law trial dates, which are currently being scheduled 8-10 months into the future).
I completely realize this is a ton of information. This process is confusing to legal professionals who are new to minor guardianships. So, as a non-legal professional, if this seems confusing, you are not alone. If you need additional help filing for minor guardianship, Navigate Law Group can help. We offer full-scope and limited-scope representation, paid 1-hour consultations, and free 20-minute consultations through our free Virtual Legal Clinic. Full-scope representation is where we fully represent you in court, draft all forms and other documents, and communicate with the court, other parties, and other attorneys involved in the case. Limited-scope representation is where we draft all the forms necessary for your case, and coach you through what to expect throughout the entire legal process. We can facilitate up to two paid 1-hour consultations to help you complete the forms.
Additionally, we provide a free Virtual Legal Clinic every Thursday evening, where you can sign up for a free 20-minute consultation with one of our family law attorneys well-versed in minor guardianship law. There is no limit to the number of times you can sign up for the free weekly virtual clinic.
I wish you the best in this process. Please feel free to reach out if I can be of any further assistance.
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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.