Minor guardianship through the probate court has long provided an avenue for families to “take care of their own”.
Vermont Parent Representation Center, Inc. and KIN-KAN Vermont created a Minor Guardianship informational slideshow for Vermont families.
Through the minor guardianship procedure in probate court families are able to enter into voluntary arrangements for the care of minor children without state intervention.
When the arrangement is consensual, i.e. the agreement and its implications are understood and agreed to by parents and the proposed guardian, the process works well. It is not uncommon, however, for the situation to be confusing when the Department for Children and Families (DCF) is involved, or to turn contentious and complicated when guardians and parents disagree about whether a minor guardianship is needed, the duration of the guardianship, the degree of parent-child contact, communication between guardians and parents, and the conditions under which a child should return to the parents’ custody, etc. For these “complex cases”, the current statute is not working well. There are concerns on all sides.
When children have to change their living situation for any reason, all involved adults need to understand their legal and practical options, their benefits, and consequences before choosing the legal option which best meets their circumstances.
When all the family members understand their legal rights and agree on the best solution, family members are better able to follow through and reduce possibilities for disagreement. If separation of parents and children is needed, agreement about how long this will last and what needs to happen to reunify the parents and children, will allow the family to support the plan and help make it happen. Parents have constitutional rights to raise their own children and need to understand what it means to consent to an alternative legal arrangement.
Potential guardians need to understand what they are taking on and their responsibilities to the children and their parents.
Caregivers are not parents. They are stepping in to help caring for the children but not to be parents. It is crucial in everyone’s decision making that there is full understanding about the roles and expectations of each member of the extended family to best support the child(ren).
The Vermont legislature changed the substantive law and procedure for minor guardianships in 2014 with strong education and involvement by VPRC. Read the law here.