In an ideal world, all children would be taken care of by happy, healthy parents. Unfortunately, that is not the world that Massachusetts residents live in. Parents of minor children can reach a point where they are unable to care for their kids, either due to illness, substance abuse problems, or incarceration, among other reasons. When this happens, someone needs to step in to look out for the children. In many cases this is a family member or friend. However, to be able to legally make many decisions for children and properly care for them, these individuals may need to become the children’s legal guardians.
Having a guardian appointed for a child means filing a petition with the court. While anyone may file such a petition, including a minor, only an adult, that is, a person 18 years old or older, may serve as a guardian. The petition is free, but there are some requirements that must be met during the early stages of the process. Once filed, the court will issue a Notice and Order of Hearing. This will designate a time and place for a hearing on the matter, and denote those parties who need to be notified.
Because there are others who may wish to be heard on the subject of the guardianship of a minor, it is required that the petitioner give notice of the hearing to those parties. Giving notice generally means ‘serving’ a copy of the petition and the order of hearing on the interested parties. This is usually done by having a sheriff or constable hand-deliver it to those parties, though there may be exceptions under certain circumstances. The people who need to be given notice are, most often, the child’s parents, if their rights haven’t been terminated. If the parents are deceased, the next closest adult relative who is still alive will need notice. If the child is over 14, he or she needs notice, as well as any legal guardian is one exists, and anyone the child has lived with in the past 60 days, except foster parents. If the child is in the Department of Children and Families (DFC) system, that organization must receive notice.
Becoming a guardian is an important decision and should not be taken lightly. However, it is certainly an act that can help a child immensely, especially if it involves keeping the child out of an overburdened DCF system. It can be a complex matter, however, and those that are attempting it may wish to consider contacting an experienced Massachusetts family attorney.