Changes to guardianship in Illinois family law

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Determining the guardian of a child in Illinois used to be a simple process. The usual reasons for decisions -- the death of a parent, financial problems or injuries that prevent a person from taking care of a child - were uncontested and the legal process was designed to make it easy on new guardians.

Sweeping cultural changes - increased poverty and unemployment, as well as social scourges such as drugs and alcohol abuse - led to the need for sweeping legal changes. More guardianship cases were filed, increasing the number of disagreements among children's families.

Guardianship is the legal custody of a child and the ability to make decision about his or her care and upbringing. Food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care are all the responsibility of a legal guardian.

The Illinois Probate Act, which governs guardianship, was amended in 2011 to make it clearer who can petition for a child's legal responsibility. Those who are not biological parents (nonparents) must show that living parents have voluntarily given up custody or cannot make everyday decisions about a child's care.

A nonparent may also petition for guardianship if the parents have failed to appear for a hearing regarding the child's custody or welfare after being properly warned of the legal proceeding. Parents may also relinquish guardianship in open court or a written document to allow the nonparent to petition for it.

The legal issues surrounding guardianship are best understood by an experienced attorney. Prospective guardians should consider legal representation for hearings, petitions and other legal proceedings.

Source: Illinois Legal Aid Online, "Minor guardianship," accessed Sep. 15, 2017

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