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Guardianship for a Minor


NOTEThe information in these frequently asked questions is about probate guardianship.  These cases are brought by the person seeking to be appointed guardian or by someone else in the family asking the court to appoint a guardian.  If custody of the minor was awarded to a non-parent through the juvenile dependency court, this section does not apply.  If Department of Family Services (DFS) is involved in your case, you probably have to go to the juvenile court to find out what you can do. Click here for more information about Juvenile Court. 

Legal Disclaimer: The following is basic legal information, provided as a public service by Wyoming’s lawyers. The information provided is not a substitute for speaking to an attorney.  Only an attorney can give you legal advice regarding your specific situation. Click here for help finding a lawyer


What is a guardianship?

As a general rule, only a child's parents have the legal right to make decisions concerning the care and upbringing of their child. Sometimes, however, parents are unable to care for their child. Maybe one or both parents:

  • Have died;
  • Have a serious physical or mental illness;
  • Are in the military and have to go overseas;
  • Are going to jail for a while;
  • Have a drug or alcohol abuse problem;
  • Have a history of being abusive; or
  • Cannot take care of his or her child for some other reason.

When this happens, the court will step in and appoint someone other than a parent to be legally responsible for the child’s welfare. This person is called a guardian. A general overview of guardianship of minors is available here.

What responsibilities does a guardian have?

For the most part, the guardian has the same responsibilities as a parent. This means the guardian has full legal and physical custody of the child. The guardian is responsible for the child's care, including the child's:

  • Food, clothing and shelter;
  • Safety and protection;
  • Physical and emotional growth;
  • Medical and dental care;
  • Education and any special needs.

The guardian may also be responsible for the child’s behavior and any damage the child may cause. 

Who can be a guardian?

In Wyoming, a guardian for a child can be any adult, as long as the appointment would be in the child’s best’s interest. Preference may be given to somebody the parent(s) want, or the child (if over the age of 14) wants.

Because biological or adoptive parents have a fundamental right to the care and control of their children, if the parents do not agree to the guardianship, then the court must also decide that the parents are unfit or unable to care for their children, not just that you or some other person would be a better caregiver.

How do I ask the court for a guardianship?

You will need to fill out and file court forms. There will also be a court hearing. If there are living parents, you must follow proper procedures to get their consent or to notify them about your request for the guardianship and about the hearing.

If the court approves the guardianship, you will also have to file periodic reports with the court for as long as the guardianship lasts. Click here for guardianship forms and instructions.

What can I do if I can’t afford to pay the court’s filing fee?

Fill out, sign, and file the Affidavit of Indigency, which is a request to waive the filing fee.  This must be filed before you file the Petition for Guardianship, and then the court will either allow you to waive they fee, or will deny your request. If they court denies your request, you have no other option but to pay the filing fee. You can find the Affidavit of Indigency  on the Supreme Court’s website, www.courts.state.wy.us in “Miscellaneous Forms” on the Family Law Pro Se Forms page under the Self Help Center. 

What if the parents agree to let me care for their child and do not want to go to court?

They can sign a notarized statement that says they are agreeing to you being the guardian of their child.  If they sign the notarized statement, they do not need to attend the hearing.  If you wish to convert a temporary guardianship to a permanent guardianship, you must give new notice or get a new consent from the parents.  Remember, the parents can ask the court to terminate a guardianship at any time.  

What if I cannot locate one or both of the minor child’s parents?

Try to find the parents or relatives by:

  • Asking all family members and friends;
  • Looking in the phone books;
  • Calling telephone information; and
  • Doing anything else you think could help you find them.

If you still cannot locate the parents, you will have to publish notice of the petition in a local newspaper. See Instructions for Appointment of a Guardian – Minor Child for instructions on service by publication.

What if one or both of the minor child’s parents do not agree with me being the guardian?

It iIf the parents do not agree, then the court will most likely schedule a court hearing, where you will present your evidence as to why you should be appointed the guardian of the minor child.  The child’s parent(s) will also be given a chance to show the judge why a guardianship is not necessary.  If a hearing is scheduled, you should consult with an attorney.  Click here for more information about Finding a Lawyer.

What if I am granted guardianship (temporary or permanent), and then the child’s parent or parents change their mind and want the child back?

The parent(s) can file a motion to modify or terminate the guardianship.  The Court will hold a hearing and review the facts of the case.  At the hearing, you should be prepared to show the court why the guardianship should not be ended.

Can I ask for a guardian for my child if I am dying?

Yes, this type of guardian is called a standby guardian. You can ask the court to appoint a guardian for your child (you must already have legal custody of the child to do this.).  This can make the transition easier when the parent dies.  It gives the sick parent the comfort of knowing their child will be safe with the guardian they choose.  Of course, if there is a living parent, that parent will be given priority for legal custody. 

What if one or both of the child’s parents are in jail or prison?

Contact the jail or prison and ask them to personally serve the forms at the jail or prison.  If the jail cannot personally serve the papers, then you must ask the sheriff in that county to serve them for you. 

How can I find someone in jail or prison?

To fiond someone in a Wyoming prison:

  • You must have either the inmate’s WDC number, of their full name and date of birth to get information.
  • Contact the Wyoming Department of Corrections at http://corrections.wy.gov/ or (307) 777-7208.

To find someone in a county jail:

  • Call the jail. You can find the phone number at each county’s website.

To find someone in federal prison:

  • Search the Federal Bureau of Prison’s Inmate Locator database at http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/LocateInmate.jsp.
  • You can search the database using the inmate’s first and last name or the inmate’s Register Number, DCDC Number, FBI Number, or INS Number.
  • Find a list of federal correctional facilities for the Federal Bureau of Prisons at http://www.bop.gov/DataSource/execute/dsFacilityLoc
  • Fill in whatever information you know (like the state or city you are looking for) and hit “submit.”

What documentation do I need in order to add the Minor to my health insurance, car insurance, etc.?

Provide certified copies of the Letters of Guardianship which you will recieve from the Court Clerk when the Judge enters the guardianship order.

How do I get copies of birth certificates, social security cards, etc., for the minor?

Provide certified copies of the Letters of Guardianship to the appropriate agency. 

How do I become the Representative Payee for social security benefits?

Contact the Office of Social Security Administration and provide certified copies of Letters of Guardianship.

Can I claim the minor as an exemption on my tax return?

Consult with a tax advisor.

What if the minor child receives SSI.  Where does the money go when the child has a guardian?

If you are appointed guardian, you will need to take the guardianship papers to your local Social Security office, and ask to become the payee for the child.

What is the difference between guardianship and adoption?

Guardianship is not the same as adoption:

  • A guardianship does not end the birth parents’ rights and responsibilities like an adoption does. Guardianship of a child means that the caregiver has custody of the child, which allows the caregiver to access services (educational, medical, etc) on behalf of the child. Unlike adoption, the birth parents can still ask for contact (visitation) with the child, and can return to court to ask for the guardianship to end. The birth parents also have financial responsibility for the child, and may have to pay child support.
  • Guardians are supervised by the court, while adoptive families are not.
  • A guardianship for a minor will end when the minor is 18. However, the legal relationship with an adoptive parent continues exactly the same as a birth family. An adopted child can also inherit from his or her adoptive parents, just as a birth child would.

What is a conservatorship?

Less commonly, the court will make a separate appointment for someone to make financial decisions about the child’s income or property.  This person is called a conservator.  This usually only happens when the child has a large amount of money or income or owns valuable real estate or other property (for example, from an inheritance or a lawsuit).  The same person can be both a guardian and a conservator.  Or a court may appoint different persons or entities (like a bank).  However, a conservator is usually not necessary if the child has only inexpensive property, or receives public benefits (like social security or TANF/welfare).
 

What is a temporary guardianship for educational, medical care, and dental care purposes?

This is a special type of guardianship that allows a non-parent relative, such as a grandparent, to access educational, medical and dental services for a minor child that is currently living with him or her. This type of guardianship is more limited, but can sometimes be easier to get. This type of guardianship is different from a general guardianship (either temporary or permanent) because the non-parent relative is not given full legal and physical custody of the child.

Click here for more information about temporary guardianships for educational, medical care, and dental care purposes.

How does a guardianship end?

A permanent guardianship must be terminated with a court order. A guardianship will end when the judge decides:

  • A parent is able to take care of the child;
  • The child turns 18;
  • The guardian is not acting, or no longer willing or able to act, in the child’s best interests (a new guardian will be appointed).