In the Probate Court, we have a similar season when the potential for chaos reigns: Temporary Typhoon Season. It only runs for two months — July and August — but within that time, 40 percent of the annual number of Petitions for Temporary Letters of Guardianship will be filed in the court.
In anticipation of this event, I will endeavor to explain what a temporary guardianship is and what is required to get one.
A temporary guardianship is one means by which the parents of a minor child may place the custody and control of that child, on a temporary basis, with a third party. These guardianships are almost always by consent of the parents and are able to be terminated by those parents once the need has resolved.
Some of the reasons they may be needed include when the parents are going out of the state or country to work, are joining the military or are just unable to parent the child due to some physical, emotional or legal issue.
Once appointed, the temporary guardian of a child has all the authority of a parent. This becomes important for things like taking the child to the doctor and enrolling the child in school — hence, the reason why most of these filings occur in July and August. Temporary guardians may also elect to place the child on their health insurance during the time the guardianship is in place.
In order to establish a temporary guardianship, the person seeking it must file a “Petition for Temporary Letters of Guardianship” in the probate court where they reside, provided that the child is already residing with them. This petition is a standard form and may be found either at the local probate court or online at www.gaprobate.org. While having an attorney assist with this process is helpful, it is not mandatory.
Filing fees for these petitions vary but usually range from $100 to $130, with additional fees required for service on any non-consenting parents.
For those considering a temporary guardianship, there are some important things to understand.
First and foremost, they are not done instantly. If the guardianship is needed to enroll a child in school, then it should be filed prior to the seeking to enroll the child. If they are not, it is possible that the child will not be able to attend school in this district until such time as the petition is filed.
In this county, the court expects that at least one parent will consent to the petition and also requires that legal notice of the petition be given to all non-consenting parents, including ones that have not legitimated the child. This requires that parent to be served by the sheriff if they live in-state or by mail if they live in another state.
If the parent receiving notice is unknown or their location is unknown, they can be served by publication in the Cherokee Tribune; however, in order to publish, this court requires the petitioner to show they made a diligent effort to locate the parent’s address.
If a parent of a child gets notice of the petition and objects to the guardianship itself, then the petition cannot be granted. If they only object to the guardian, then the court holds a hearing.
All proposed guardians and all adult members of their household must undergo background checks. Lengthy criminal histories may result in the case being referred to Juvenile Court for a more extensive review.
Once the guardianship is established, the parent has a right to petition for it to be terminated and, except in cases where the guardians can affirmatively and clearly show that the child will be harmed if the guardianship is terminated, they will be. For this reason, temporary guardianships make a very poor alternative to gaining custody of a child either through Superior or Juvenile Court. If the reason for the temporary guardianship is bad parenting, then the petitioner may want to consider other alternatives.
Once appointed, temporary guardians can’t just resign because they change their minds. For this reason, it is extremely important that those seeking a temporary guardianship know exactly what they are getting into.
Lastly, if the purpose for getting the temporary guardianship is to enroll the child in school, and the person who will have custody is a grandparent, there is also a form known as a “Georgia Power of Attorney for the Care of a Minor Child” which can be executed by the parents of the child.
This document can accomplish many of the same goals of a temporary guardianship but does not require the involvement of the courts.
It can be found at O.C.G.A. §19-9-129 but if you have no desire to crack the law books, a simple Google search will avail just fine.
Judge Keith Wood has worked in the Cherokee County Probate Court since 2004 and has been probate judge since 2009.