Minor Guardianship: Fast Facts

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Read this for an overview of minor guardianship, including who has the right to a lawyer, how guardianship affects the rights of the child and the parents, and alternatives to guardianship. #4401EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Minor guardianship creates a legal relationship between the children and an adult the court appoints to be their guardian.  Thes court decides whether the guardian is allowed to have physical custody of and make decisions for children under age 18. The guardian, once appointed, may have the same or similar responsibilities as a parent.

No. The person starting (filing) the case (the petitioner) must hire their own lawyer if they want a lawyer to represent them in the case.

A judge will appoint a guardian when each parent agrees to the guardianship, or there is clear and convincing evidence that no parent can or will parent the children, including if the parents' rights have been terminated.


  • "Regular" (or "long-term") Minor Guardianship - this guardianship is intended to last until the youngest child turns 18.
  • Emergency Minor Guardianship - this short-term guardianship lasts from 60 to 120 days.

The procedures for each type of guardianship are a little different from each other. Much of the paperwork is the same. It can be confusing.

Maybe, if you can prove that an emergency guardian is likely to prevent substantial harm to the children's safety and no other person can act to prevent the harm. There are different ways to get a court order quickly in this type of situation:

Guardians are often relatives of children, but don't have to be. Anyone interested in the welfare of the children can file a case. Generally, the guardian must be at least 21 years old, not have criminal convictions involving dishonesty, neglect, or use of physical force or other crimes related to a guardian's responsibilities and be otherwise suitable.

* Depending on the situation, a court could consider a relative qualified to be the guardian even if the relative has a conviction.
* There are cases where a guardian is over age 18 but still not 21.

Also, anyone wanting to be appointed guardian must complete court training.

The guardian gets to decide where the children live. This will mostly mean the children live with the guardian.

It depends on what the guardianship court order says. For example, a parent might have visitation rights. The parents may still have other rights, too, such as making decisions about education, for example, or access to records. The guardianship court order will say what these are.

Yes. The judge may order one or both parents to pay child support.  If so, the person who wants child support must complete child support worksheets and serve the county prosecutor. Our Serving papers on the State packet has the forms and instructions for that.

The petitioner must deliver to (must "serve") a copy of the petition and other court papers on each parent of the children, any child who is age 12 or older, and any person who has legal guardianship or nonparent custody of the children.

It can be a long list. The people who should get notice of the guardianship case includes:

  • Any adult with primary care and custody of the children who is not a parent, guardian, or person with non-parent custody
  • Each person that recently had primary care or custody of the children
  • Grandparents
  • Adult siblings

This is not a complete list.

The person who files the guardianship case must give the children's tribe notice about the case. Read Minor Guardianship of Native American Children to learn more.

Generally, yes. If they are age 12 or older, they can ask for a lawyer. They can even start a guardianship case themselves.

But the judge can decide that the youth shouldn't go to court hearings if it would be harmful to them. Also, the judge can decide that the youth doesn't have the ability or maturity to take part in the case in a way that is meaningful. Read I am age 12 – 17. What are my rights in a minor guardianship case? to learn more.

The court must appoint a lawyer for a parent if the parent cannot afford a lawyer, appears in the case, and one of these is true:

  • The parent objects to the guardianship,
  • The parent needs a lawyer to make sure they understand their agreement to the guardianship, or
  • The court determines the parent needs a lawyer.

The court may, but does not have to, appoint a lawyer for a parent for any of these reasons even if the parent can pay for a lawyer.

No. The guardian must get the court's approval to stop being the guardian.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.

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Last Review and Update: Dec 12, 2023
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