Navigating The Path To Guardianship For Your Child - It's A Big Deal
Updated: Jun 4, 2018
By Tracy John//
We all have dreams, imaginary goals for our children from the moment they come into your life. It is natural and it does not change whether you gave birth to your child or you adopted them. Rarely, in those early years of child rearing does anyone really consider that they will eventually have to navigate gaining guardianship over their adult child. I know I certainly did not think of it when we adopted our son. Traversing the path to guardianship is difficult to say the least. There are crushing moments where reality swamps your dreams. Arguments with family and perhaps even with the adult that needs to be provided for. I don’t know how others have navigated this path but, I know how we did it. I will relate a little bit about what prompted our journey.
Looking back with 20/20 vision, I believe we should have had a clue but to be honest, we just didn’t. We adopted our son when he was three and a half. He was delayed they declared but with enough love and patience he would come along- everything would be just fine. They were positive of it, so we were too! His needs could not be met in private school so we enrolled him in a head-start program. When he was in first or second grade we had a meeting with the school and learned that our son didn’t make the leap from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. We thought this would eventually occur and carried on.
There were difficulties along the way that shaped his world in ways we could not know. He had a hearing impairment that went undiagnosed and mental health issues that were specific to kids who faced neglect and abuse in infancy. Reading his biological families story presented a pretty scary story that frankly does not need to be repeated. Suffice it to say that we were very glad that he was with us and we were going to do our very best by him.
He was enrolled in Special Education from the time that we entered public school. We had specialists who worked with him and teachers and paraprofessionals who cared deeply for our son. During his elementary years we quietly and happily believed he would be just fine and we did not revise our life goals for our son. His gross motor skills were still delayed to we enrolled him in Special Olympics to get him involved.
Fast forward a few years and now he is growing up and enrolled in middle school. We noticed along the way that he did not do very well with complex directions. He had the ability to follow simple rules but had impulse issues. He has ticks and problems communicating in complete structured thoughts. While he was in grade school the school insisted that he be evaluated due to emotional outbursts and cycling behavior that they found troubling.
We were not happy to learn that he had a number of lifelong issues that would change his prospects for a productive life. I can’t begin to tell you the hurt and anguish we experienced when the reality began to sink in. Don’t get me wrong on many levels we were truly blessed. We had time to see the signs and begin planning for our son. Others are not so lucky- we realized this and are grateful that we had time to come to terms with this new reality in small doses.
So how does someone go about making such a life altering decision for their adult child? First off there are numerous conversations. We had to come to terms with our own grief and realize that while this was not the life we imagined for our son we still had a responsibility to help him navigate it. We decided that our mission had not changed so much but the reality was that we still had to prepare him to live a life as independently as possible.
Guardianship is not an easy path to take. By petitioning for guardianship you are declaring this individual is not competent to make decisions. Let’s be clear… if you file… the adult loses all ability to be in charge of their own life. Legally, they have no constitutional rights they will not be able to vote, drive a car, get married. It is a big deal and should not be made lightly. There is a whole host of things that will not be in their future with this path.
Thankfully, this decision is not one that many people have to make and they don’t have to make this decision on their own. Traditionally, there are steps that are taken. In our case, we did have time. We had a supportive family and a few parents from Special Olympics that talked to us about how to proceed. If you’re facing this decision, there are organizations that will help you as well.
In our case, we had already determined that the alternatives were not going to work for our son. We knew it would be irresponsible of us to expect him to go into adulthood when he could not meet even the most elementary needs. That does not mean your situation is the same. There are alternatives. Different power of attorneys’ can be used to assist you in meeting the needs for you and your family member. The power of attorneys all have elements that did not fit our son or his situation. We knew our son will never be able to live independently. We had to address that in our wills and make arrangements for his future this is no different than providing a guardian for your child in your will except this is your adult child that will need to have assistance for the rest of their life!
The guardianship we petitioned for was a full guardianship. We make all the decisions for our son. Where he goes, where he lives, what medical treatments are given. We are responsible for paying his bills and protecting him physically and emotionally. We are required to report to the court on an annual basis explaining where he is. What he does and how money is spent for him.
Since our situation was not an emergency the process took a little bit of time. There were records that had to be combined as evidence for the court. The disability was determined by several experts. Opinions by our son’s psychologist, his doctor and an independent investigator that interviewed our son were filed with the court. Recommendations were made and presented to the court with the petition.
We did not have a lawyer file the petition for us. The guardianship paperwork was available on the district court website. We were provided with a court date. For a process that is so life altering it was relatively hassle free. The judge asked several questions and interviewed our son. Thankfully, she agreed and granted us guardianship.
Our journey to guardianship was an emotionally draining experience. As parents, we want to believe that we can raise independent and fully functioning adults. We do not expect that we could be in a situation where we would be responsible for our children for the rest of their lives. However, sometimes life happens and you must make decisions based on what you believe is in their best interests. Our biggest dreams for our kids may be to have healthy, happy independent adults. That does not have to change even when filing for guardianship.