Anyone concerned with the well-being of a child may petition the court for appointment of a minor guardian.  Even the child themself, if they are age 12 or older, may petition the court to appoint a minor guardian.  The court will appoint a minor guardian for the child if it determines any one of the following three criteria exist:

  • (1) Each parent of the minor consents,
  • (2) All parental rights have been terminated, or
  • (3) There is clear and convincing evidence that no parent is willing or able to properly parent the child.

Please refer to my blog entitled, “Minor Guardianship versus Emergency Minor Guardianship in Washington State: What’s the Difference?” from October 2021 for a better understanding of how the court determines whether a minor guardian is necessary.

If someone has filed a Minor Guardianship Petition involving your minor child, you have important rights that the court must uphold.  So, what are those rights?

You have the right to an attorney at all minor guardianship proceedings.

You can either hire an attorney yourself, or, the court will appoint an attorney for you if the following are true:

  • (1) You have “appeared” in the proceeding, meaning you filed a Notice of Appearance or some other response in the matter;
  • (2) You are indigent; and,
  • (3) One of the following is true: (a) The parent objects to appointment of a guardian for the minor; or (b) The court determines that counsel is needed to ensure that consent to appointment of a guardian is informed; or (c) The court otherwise determines the parent needs representation.

The court will consider you “indigent” if any one of the following factors are met:

  • (1) You are receiving one of the following types of public assistance: Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), aged, blind, or disabled assistance benefits, free state medical care, pregnant women assistance benefits, poverty-related veterans’ benefits, food stamps or food stamp benefits transferred electronically, refugee resettlement benefits, Medicaid, or supplemental security income; or
    (2) You have been involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility; or
    (3) Your an annual income, after taxes, is 125% or less of the current federally established poverty level; or
    (4) You are unable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter before the court because your available funds are insufficient to pay any amount for the retention of counsel.

You have the right to notice of all court proceedings and to attend and participate.

 

The person filing the Minor Guardianship Petition must prove to the court that they have served a copy of the petition and hearing date on each parent of the minor child. By serving a copy of those documents on you, you have been given “notice” that a minor guardianship action involving your child was started with the court. If the petitioning party cannot prove to the court that each parent has been served and notified of the hearing date, the court must reschedule the hearing for a later date so that each parent may receive notice.

You have the right to know your child is being placed in a safe environment.

 

Before the court will grant any order involving your minor child, it must first consult the Judicial Information System (JIS). The JIS is a statewide case management system including all cases in the appellate, superior, limited jurisdiction, and juvenile courts. A search in the JIS will produce any criminal history information, domestic violence protection orders, and outstanding warrants.

Before a court will grant a final order on the Minor Guardianship Petition, it must order the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) to run a background check on each petitioning party and any other individuals in the home age 16 and older. In addition, each petitioning party and any other adult members of the petitioning party’s household must provide the results of a Washington State criminal background check.

You have the right to nominate a minor guardian for your child.

 

Following a hearing on the Minor Guardianship Petition, the court may appoint a minor guardian. If you have nominated a person to be your child’s minor guardian, the court will appoint that person unless the court finds it is not in the best interests of your child to appoint your nominated person. If you and the other parent nominate different people, the court will appoint the nominee that it believes is in the best interest of the child, unless the court determines that none of the nominees are in the best interest of your child.

You have the right to request a limited guardianship which promotes the continued relationship between you and your child.

 

The minor guardianship can be either a “full guardianship” or a “limited guardianship.”  When a parent retains any visitation with the child or any decision-making powers for the child, it is a limited guardianship.  It is the goal of the court to maintain a relationship between you and your child unless it determines that it would not be in the best interest of your child to allow any visitation.

You have the right to request a “standby” guardian in the event the appointed minor guardian can no longer perform their duty.

 

If you are concerned about something happening to the person appointed as minor guardian for your child, you can nominate a standby guardian to step in when needed. For example, you may want to nominate your child’s grandparents as minor guardians, but you may be concerned about their health or how long they would be able to perform the duties of a minor guardian. In that case, you could nominate a standby guardian to take over the guardianship in the event something happened to one or both of your child’s grandparents.

You have the right to petition the court to terminate the minor guardianship.

 

The minor guardianship need only remain in place if one of the three criteria identified above are true. If you can prove to the court that you are willing and able to properly parent your child, you may petition the court to terminate the minor guardianship. The court will terminate the minor guardship unless it determines: (1) Termination of the guardianship would be harmful to the minor, and (2) The minor’s interest in the continuation of the guardianship outweighs the interest of any parent of the minor in restoration of the parent’s right to make decisions for the minor.

Get Legal Help

If you have any questions about minor guardianship in Washington State, please feel free to contact our office to set up a consultation. Reach out to Navigate Law Group for an experienced attorney to assist you. 

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Anna K. Russo

Anna K. Russo

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Amber M. Rushbanks (Rush)

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Chelsie M. Elliott

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Tanya M. Green

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Anna Vujovic

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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.