Adoption Q&A #7
What Legal Steps May Be Taken When Children Are Raised by Non-Parents?
Over the past decade, we have seen a significant increase in the number of minor children living outside the homes of their parents. Friends and family members have stepped in to fill the void left by absent parents. In some cases, the legal status of the children is resolved by terminating the rights of the parents and having an adoption concluded with the children's caretakers. Often, however, birth parents do not want to relinquish parental rights, but are not willing to take responsibility for the children. As a consequence, caretakers are now seeking guardianship as a means to establish an appropriate legal relationship with the children in their care. In those instances in which the children are not under the supervision of the State in a CHIPS (child in need of protective services) case, newly enacted Chapter 54 provides the guidelines for guardianship legal procedures. In the event the children are already under court supervision in a CHIPS context, Sec. 48.977, Stats. provides the legal structure for such guardianships.
Guardianship may allow the caretakers to enroll the children in school, obtain health insurance coverage, and provide parent-like authority to make other decisions for the children in their care. Guardianship is not as permanent as adoption. It may be undone by application of a parent to terminate the guardianship. It nevertheless provides at minimum an interim solution to child placement issues. Visitation and child support can be ordered under a guardianship.