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FAQs: Guardianships in Oregon and Washington

FAQs: Guardianships in Oregon and Washington

Questions about guardianship come up often in family law. Being someone’s guardian is an important responsibility. It can also be an incredibly rewarding experience and a chance to make a positive difference in a loved one’s life.
In this post, we will answer a few of the most common guardianship questions to help you understand your rights and make informed decisions for you and your family.

What Is a Guardian?

A guardian is an adult who is appointed to manage another person’s physical care and custody. Someone under the care of a guardian is called a “protected person.” In general, protected persons are:
  1. Children
  2. Adults whom the court finds to be “incapacitated” and unable to provide for themselves 
Before we go any further, you should know guardianship is just one of many options. When the protected person is a child, for example, grandparents have the option to seek legal custody or visitation rights instead of guardianship. For elderly people who need help managing their own financial affairs, a conservatorship is an option as well. Conservators are responsible for handling a person’s financial matters, whereas guardians are generally responsible for physical care and custody.
You have a variety of options. A good attorney can help you assess your situation and decide which option is right for you.

What Does a Guardian Do?

If you are the guardian of a minor, you take on most of the responsibilities and rights that a parent has including protecting the child from harm and providing care and sustenance.
When it comes to adult guardianships, both Oregon and Washington have laws in place to make sure that adults who are considered incapacitated still retain as much independence as possible. A person can be considered incapacitated for a variety of reasons, but ultimately, a judge will decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not a guardianship is necessary and how much control the guardian should have over the incapacitated person.

Who Can Be a Guardian?

In both Oregon and Washington, anyone can try to establish guardianship, custody, or visitation rights. Guardians are only appointed if the court deems it necessary though. For example, if a child’s parents have passed away or are found to be unfit, it’s common for a grandparent, relative, or other important parental figure to become a guardian. Agencies usually prefer to place children with family members when possible, but each situation is handled individually, and you don’t have to be related to someone in order to become their guardian.
You should also know that if you have already been continuously providing for a child for a significant amount of time and have established a long-lasting personal relationship, it may be easier to get custody or guardianship. This is true even if you’re not a family member.

How Can I Become Someone’s Legal Guardian?

Becoming a guardian involves filing a petition and proving to the court that:
  • The guardianship is necessary
  • You are the right person to take on the responsibility 
When it comes to becoming a child’s guardian, you’ll also need to show you have a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship. If the parent is still living and objects, you’ll need to show why he or she is unfit to have custody of the child and is not acting in the child’s best interest.
If you’re trying to become an adult’s guardian, you may need to show the person is incapacitated.

Are Guardianships Permanent?

Guardianships can be terminated for a variety of reasons. If a parent who was deemed unfit can show that he or she is now fit to parent again, the court will often end the guardianship. Custody awards are generally more permanent so they’re usually a better option if you want to make sure you can keep caring for a child until adulthood.

How Do I Start the Process?

Establishing guardianship is complicated, especially if there is conflict within the family or if people disagree on the best outcome. The first step is to talk to a family law attorney who has experience in your state. If you live in Oregon or Washington, the attorneys at Gevurtz Menashe can help you understand your rights. We have been helping people navigate guardianship issues in both states for more than 30 years. Contact us today to get started.

Call our Portland office at 503-227-1515.
Or our Vancouver office at 360-823-0410.
Or contact us online to schedule a consultation.