A parent must first nominate a person as a standby guardian for their minor child.

A standby guardian is a person nominated by a parent of a minor child, and subsequently legally appointed by a court, to step in and act as the minor child’s guardian if no parent is able or willing to parent the child. In Washington State, the court looks to RCW 26.09.004 for the definition of parenting functions. Those functions include the child’s support, care, education, health, safety, and welfare. A parent might need a standby guardian if they know that within the next 2 years, neither parent of the minor child will be able to perform the parenting functions. Common situations when a parent might need a standby guardian to be appointed are when there is only one functioning parent, and that parent has a terminal medical diagnosis, is facing incarceration, or is facing removal from the United States under federal immigration laws.

A parent nominates a person to be a standby guardian of their minor child by putting the nomination in a signed writing. The statute does not specify what type of signed writing, nor whether it should be notarized – it simply needs to be in writing and signed by a parent of a minor child. The parent can limit the powers of the nominated guardian, and can revoke the nomination, in a signed writing, at any point before the court legally appoints the person as standby guardian. The court will appoint the nominated person as standby guardian as long as the appointment is in the best interest of the minor child, and there is a finding that, within the next 2 years, no parent of the minor child will likely be able or willing to perform the parenting functions.

The court must then legally appoint the nominated person as a standby guardian for the minor child.

A parent of the minor child or the person nominated by the parent may petition the court to appoint the nominated person as a standby guardian. There are multiple forms the parent or nominated guardian must complete, file with the court, and serve on all interested parties. The forms needed to begin the court case include:

  • Standby Minor Guardianship Petition (form GDN M 702)
  • Notice of Hearing for Standby Minor Guardianship Petition (form GDN M 701)
  • Declaration Explaining Reasons for Minor Guardianship (form GDN M 103)
  • Criminal History Cover Sheet (form GDN M 407), plus Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH) reports for each nominated guardian and each adult living with the nominated guardian
  • Motion and Order for DCYF to Release CPS Information (form GDN M 404 and GND M 405)

The Petitioner (person filing the Standby Minor Guardianship Petition) must personally serve a copy of the petition and the other forms identified above on the following people:

  • The minor, if the minor is 12 years of age or older, and the minor’s attorney, if any
  • Each parent of the minor child
  • The person nominated as standby guardian
  • Any other person the court determines

If a person entitled to service objects to the standby guardianship, they must file an objection with the court within 60 days of being served, and they must serve the objection on each person entitled to service. An objecting person must file form GDN M 301, Objection to Minor Guardianship. If an objection is filed, the court must hold a hearing to determine whether a standby guardian should be appointed, and who should be appointed as the standby guardian. If no objection is filed, the court may appoint the nominated person.

Once the court appoints the standby guardian, the Petitioner should complete form GDN M 705, Standby Minor Guardianship Findings and Order, have all parties and the judge sign the order. At this point, the standby guardian is legally appointed by the court. The Standby Minor Guardianship Findings and Order will identify the event or circumstance when the minor guardianship should begin. The event or circumstance identified is the moment that no parent of the child is willing or able to perform the parenting functions for the minor child. For example, it would be when a parent’s terminal illness incapacitates them, when the parent is incarcerated, or when the parent is removed from the United States under federal immigration laws.

Once the event or circumstance requiring the standby guardian occurs, the appointed standby guardian must accept the appointment.

To legally accept the appointment, the appointed standby guardian must complete, file, and serve on any person entitled to notice, as identified above, the following forms:

  • Notice of Acceptance of Appointment (form GDN M 706)
  • Acceptance of Appointment (form GDN ALL 003)

In addition, the appointed standby guardian must get Letters of Guardianship (form GDN ALL 004) issued from the Superior Court Clerk’s office. The Letters of Guardianship are the official form that grants the guardian the duties and powers of a minor guardian. Any person entitled to notice identified above continues to have a right to be notified if the minor guardian delegates custody of the minor child to another person, the court changes or limits the guardian’s powers, or the court removes the guardian. The minor guardianship will continue until a parent becomes willing or able to perform the parenting functions, or the minor child turns 18.

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If you are facing a situation where you may need to nominate a standby guardian for your minor child, please reach out to one of our attorneys experienced in minor guardianship cases. Like most family law cases, this process can be complicated, emotional, and confusing. We are here to help you navigate the legal pathways to secure the safety and well-being of your children.

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Disclaimer

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.