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Family | Guardianship

What are the Powers of a Natural Guardian?

8 min read
Francesca Toledo, J.D.

by Francesca Toledo, J.D.

You’ve likely heard of guardianship, but there are several different types of guardianships, depending on a minor’s needs. A natural guardian is often a child’s first-ever guardian, and sometimes the only one they’ll ever need.

Natural guardianship comes with many powers over a child, including deciding where a child will live and attend school. Natural guardians are responsible for making all of the critical decisions in a minor’s life. 

If you need legal assistance with guardianship, an unbundled lawyer is ready to help you.

What is a Natural Guardian?

Simply put, a natural guardian is a minor’s biological or adopted parents.

Generally, both parents are legal guardians and share equal power and responsibility over their children. However, certain situations may require a minor to only have one natural guardian rather than two. 

Powers of a Natural Guardian

Natural guardians have certain powers over a child’s life and future.

A natural guardian has the power to make important decisions for a child, including:

  • Where the child will live
  • Where the child will attend school
  • What religion the child will practice
  • What doctors the child will see

Natural guardians have these powers and must use them responsibly. The decisions a guardian makes can greatly affect the child’s life in the present and the future.

When a child has two natural guardians, like their mother and father, both can make decisions for their child together. 

Requirements of a Natural Guardian

There is a difference between the powers of a natural guardian and the requirements of a natural guardian. The powers refer to the things a natural guardian is entitled to do for a child, but the requirements refer to what the guardian must do for the child.

Should a guardian not follow through with the requirements, it’s possible they can be stripped of their powers. While a “natural” guardian cannot necessarily be replaced, in the event a natural guardian cannot give the minor what they need, they would be replaced by another guardian. 

Is Legal Intervention Required for Natural Guardians?

No, legal intervention is not required to make a parent a natural guardian.

When a child is born, their parents are already their natural guardians without needing to take any additional steps. Parents are responsible for their children’s care and well-being.

If a child is adopted, the moment that child is adopted, the adoptive parents are considered the child’s natural guardians, therefore assuming responsibility to take care of and nurture their child.

Legal intervention is only necessary under certain circumstances, for example, when a child’s parents are divorcing.

Natural Guardians vs. Other Types of Guardians

A natural guardian is the only type of guardian a minor can have. The other types of guardians for minors usually depend on the situation and the need for guardianship.

Permanent Minor Guardian

Sometimes, guardians require a permanent guardian who will take the place of their natural guardian(s). While they’re replacing natural guardians, they are not themselves referred to as natural guardians.

A minor guardian may be required in any of the following cases:

  • The child’s parents have passed away
  • A judge has deemed the child’s parents unfit
  • The child’s parents have relinquished their parental rights

Depending on the situation, a minor’s parents can choose their child’s guardian. This happens most frequently when a child’s parents pass away, but the parents had an estate plan detailing who they would want as guardians for their child.

In other cases, a family court judge can appoint a guardian as they see fit. Judges usually like to choose a guardian the minor already has a relationship with, to make it a smooth transition.

A permanent guardianship does not regularly have an expiration date. Guardianship for minors usually terminates for the same reasons a natural guardianship would, including the minor reaching the age of majority. 

While minor guardianships do not usually terminate, a judge can choose to terminate guardianship early if they feel the current guardian is not performing their duties and responsibilities adequately. 

Temporary Minor Guardian

A temporary minor guardianship gives individual rights and responsibilities to a child for a short amount of time.

The way temporary guardianship works varies by state. However, it often involves an agreement between the minor’s parent or current guardian and the temporary guardian. A temporary guardianship is often needed if the child’s current parent or guardian is unable to take care of them for a short time.

Temporary guardianships could last anywhere from two to six months. The agreement may dictate when the guardianship is to automatically terminate, but if not, state law may indicate a temporary guardianship cannot last beyond a certain point. 

Emergency Minor Guardian

If there is an emergency threatening a minor’s life or well-being, there may need to be an emergency guardianship. In a dire situation, the person seeking guardianship could petition the court on an emergency basis to obtain an appointment much quicker than usual.

The emergency minor guardianship process can vary by state but usually involves filing a petition with the court. Depending on the procedures of your state and the severity of the situation, the court may review the petition and evidence and either appoint the guardian right away or schedule an emergency hearing.

When granted, emergency guardianship is temporary guardianship.

Whether or not there is a need for an emergency hearing, if guardianship is granted, the court will schedule a more formal hearing. During this hearing, the judge will review the evidence and hear from both sides as to why or why not the judge should make the guardianship permanent.

At the hearing, the judge can either decide to terminate the emergency temporary guardianship or make the guardianship permanent.

What Happens if a Minor No Longer Has a Natural Guardian?

Usually, a minor has two natural guardians, as both parents are guardians. A child, at some point, may end up losing one of their natural guardians, either because they abandon the child, are deemed unfit to be a parent/guardian or pass away.

In a situation like this, the child’s other natural guardian would then take full responsibility for the child’s care. 

If a minor only has one natural guardian and that guardian is no longer available to care for the child, another guardian may have to take over caring for the child. Natural guardians cannot be replaced. If, for whatever reason, a child no longer has a natural guardian, a judge can appoint a different type of guardian.

How Divorce Can Affect Natural Guardianship

When a child is born and both parents are in the child’s life, they are both the child’s natural guardians. Being a natural guardian comes with inherent rights and responsibilities. Divorce can change some of these rights.

When spouses with children go through a divorce, the topic of child custody must be addressed. Depending on the outcome, it could affect how a parent cares for their child. 

In the best scenarios, parents would get joint custody of their children. Joint custody allows both parents to spend time with their children and continue sharing legal custody, meaning they’re able to make decisions for their children together. 

If a judge determines joint custody would not be in a child’s best interest, they could award one parent sole custody. When a parent has sole custody, they have physical and legal custody of their child. Therefore, the other parent, the noncustodial parent, would not have the same rights they once did.

When parents divorce it can either keep the natural guardianship intact or change it altogether. 

Does Natural Guardianship End?

Natural guardianship does come to an end at some point.

Usually, when a minor reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in most states, they are no longer minors and do not need a guardian. 

Additionally, natural guardianship may end if a minor emancipates, gets married, or passes away.

While the legal side of a natural guardianship typically ends after a minor reaches the age of majority, this does not mean the relationship ends altogether. Parents can still continue to provide the same level of love, care, and support. 

Benefits and Downfalls of Natural Guardianship

The biggest benefit of natural guardianship is that there is no need for legal intervention. A child naturally comes into the world often already having the natural guardianship connection, having one or two individuals immediately taking responsibility for them. The concept of natural guardianship itself is natural, as parents have an interest in caring for their children. 

The main issue with natural guardianship is the fact natural guardianship gives parents a right to their children, even when they don’t deserve such power and responsibility. 

A person can generally be an unfit parent, but unless they do something to negatively affect their child or there is a substantial reason to take away their rights, the parent retains powers over their child. Unfortunately, anyone is allowed to have kids, and some people are just not suited to be parents. 

Turn to an Unbundled Lawyer for Guardianship Guidance

Guardianship can be challenging. If you need legal guidance regarding guardianship, whether natural or otherwise, turn to an unbundled lawyer.

An unbundled lawyer provides the same services as a traditional lawyer. However, instead of paying your attorney for full representation, you’d only be paying for the services you actually need and nothing else.

Unbundled Legal Help has an expansive network of qualified and experienced unbundled lawyers. If you need help with guardianship, we can match you with a lawyer in your area.

Contact Unbundled Legal Help today to get started.

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