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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » A Serious Topic: Legal guardianship of a minor

   
Author Topic: A Serious Topic: Legal guardianship of a minor
Kwea
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My wife and I may be taking guardianship of my 13 year old niece in the near future. Her mother is not able to provide a safe environment for her, mainly due to another of her daughters.

her father is years behind on his child support, and is not capable of taking custody, and as far as I know have never wanted custody. He has pretty much caused the older daughter to be who she is today, and last I heard was still getting drunk, arrested, and was using drugs daily.

DCF is involved, in MA, and we are down here in FL. My MIL just went up and signed for legal guardianship, but she lives in a 55 and up housing program and can't keep her longer than a couple of weeks.

We live about a mile from her, and my MIL just wanted us to take her in, and have her use our address as the girls legal address, but I feel that is fraud, and I won't do it. Not only could we face legal issues if we did, but I could lose my nursing licence for fraudulently reporting to a state agency.

So if, and that is a BIG if, we do take her in, I pretty much have to take over the Legal Guardianship. That, or my MIL has to break her lease and find a new place to live....something that is not really feasible.

I am at a loss. Short of hiring a lawyer, something we can't afford to do right now, I have no idea how to progress, if we choose to go forward with this. Has anyone else ever had to take custody of a minor, either short term or long term?

Add to this the fact that we live in FL, 1200 miles away from MA, and I am not even sure which state has jurisdiction once she gets down here. I can't afford to fly back and forth for court dates and hearings. We aren't poor, but we spent all fo our savings to help my MIL move down here 6 months ago (ironically enough so she wouldn't be dragged into this crap), so things are tight, although FAR better than what my SIL has, or has ever been able to provide for any of her children.


Not looking for official legal advice, of course. Just hoping someone can't point me in the right direction, and maybe offer me some advice.

BTW, don't do it is not really advice. Or so my wife told me when I brought it up. [Wink]

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CT
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Good luck, Kwea.

I can't vouch for these sites, but this is what a Google search turns up which looks helpful:

1. Florida Pro Bono (family law attorneys): http://www.floridaprobono.org/

2. Florida Law Help (some self-help info): http://www.floridalawhelp.org/FL/index.cfm

3. Sucinct eHow article on how to file for tempoarary guardianship of a minor: http://www.ehow.com/how_5881648_temporary-guardianship-minor-child.html

4. Justia US Law on the 2005 Florida Code (Temporary Custody of Minor Children by Extended Family): http://law.justia.com/codes/florida/2005/TitleXLIII/ch0751.html

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rivka
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Good luck, Kwea.
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Stephan
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My brother-in-law and his wife took guardianship over her 12 year old sister. They didn't get a lawyer, but nobody fought them. Parents were pretty worthless. The only advice from what I saw is just to make any ground rules clear.
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Kwea
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Yeah, her mom is in favor of this for now, and signed over her to her grandma, but she just can't live there. It's 55 and older only.

I think grandma just needs to break her lease, and find new housing. Even if it means I end up paying for part of it. That way the kid can come and visit, and help out, and play with the dogs...whatever she wants to do. But we don't have any legal rights or responsibilities, and we don't have to pay out the nose for trips to court in MA, or hiring lawyers.

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Orincoro
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It doesn't sound much like you'd need a lawyer, except to square away any legal paperwork. There are legal aid societies that could help you with that.

Have you spoken with a social worker? That seems an obvious question, but you've made no mention of it that I can see. If CPS (is DPF the florida equivalent of this) is involved, is there a case worker that can refer you to the right people to help you make decisions and explore your options?

I don't know beyond speculation, but it's always possible that there are some local or state funds available for these types of emergency situations, and you may be able to apply for some financial assistance should you need to take this girl in. For instance, if you're named as a foster parent, there may be state funds available from DCF (their website makes mention of this), but you may need to go through some emergency screening procedures. You're also family, which can make the process move more quickly.

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Sphinx
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Talk to a lawyer. You don't necessarily need to hire one to do the entire process because that can be expensive, but if you've got questions (and it definitely looks like you do) then a lawyer is the best person to answer them. Spending the money for a consultation would be worth it in my mind because it would (hopefully, and that depends on your lawyer) give you a specific plan to follow.

One point to keep in mind is that, while the terms are similar, having legal guardianship over a child is different from temporary custody of that child. What differs is the amount of power the guardian/custodian has and what decisions they can make.

I found this site, which will probably have the form you'll need once you decide what you want to do.

Edit: Just saw the latest update. At this point, Grandma has accepted responsibility, so in the court's eyes it's on her to make the situation work. If that means she finds a new place to live, so be it. While I still recommend talking to a lawyer, I'd also recommend making Grandma pay for it [Wink]

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Stone_Wolf_
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I don't have any advice except try and make sure the child maintains a feeling of being wanted and does not start to feel like a burden.

Good luck!

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AchillesHeel
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I don't have anything more constructive to say beyond good luck and good on you for helping the kid, I was one of those left behind kids and being considered and appreciated goes a long way to a kid when your genetically programmed caregiver does a vanishing act.
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Kwea
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She got here safely, but I think we are going to have issues. Grandma hasn't discussed much with her, and she was talking on and on about how she was going to come back from her boyfriends birthday, and how a family friend will send her money for a ticket as soon as she asks.....

She is in for a rude awakening, and I am glad it isn;t MY job to tell her. She can't go back there without her guardian, the whole point of leaving was to try and keep her safe. It's not safe to walk right back into it alone at age 13.

And I don't care if someone sends her money or not.

:::sigh:::


I love her, but I am not looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

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Orincoro
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She's lucky, I think. At 13 her brain is still plastic enough to adjust to a new set of emotional and behavioral boundaries. I have no envy of your part in this, of course, but you do have a hell of a chance of turning somebody's life around, and that's a mitzvah, insofar as I understand the word.
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Kwea
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She is a good kid. She hasn't really been told what the plan is, because we are all playing it by ear. Her grandma is more like a mom to her, as she spends a ton of time with her....or did before the grandma moved down here.

Just found out that the middle school she qualifies for here in Ocala is graded an A, one of the best in the state. The school is only 4 years old, and has a performing arts building, a wellness building, a media center.....hell, I almost wish I was going back to school there.


Almost.

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Orincoro
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From my limited experience as a high school teacher, I would only suggest that you keep present in mind that a person of that age is prone to feeling out of control and adrift. Yu can help her adjust and stay level by carefully explaining your plans (even if they are preliminary) and giving her a feeling of being involved in the process, rather than excluded from it.

For instance, and I think you probably already know this, try not to *announce* that she's going to a new school, or to *announce* that she will be living with you. And such like. You can make it easier on yourself and her by broaching the topics slowly and letting her "make the decision" by giving her the chance to warm to the situation. Nice thing about adolescent psychology- its fairly predictable.

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Kwea
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She already knows about the school, and she knows it is the law that she has to be in school while down here. It helps that her grandma was a teacher, and she likes and does well in school.

I am not sure how to fill her in on decisions....in part because we are still trying to figure this stuff out as well. I know that is she had any choice in the matter she would not be down here, even though she admits she didn't feel safe there. She feels like she could stay at her boyfriends house, or make due some other way, when in reality almost everyone in her old neighborhood were part of the problem.

I know she likes it down here, at least to visit. I am hoping it grows on her....but by the same token, I know for a fact I don't trust her mother's judgement at all....and at any time her mom could revoke temporary guardianship and take her back, regardless of if it is safe for her or not.

The only way to avoid that is to report an unsafe environment, and let DCF take her once she gets back to MA. That would be known as the "nuclear option", because there is no turning back once a family member does that to another family member.

I know her mom loves her, and tries....but her mom loves her other kid as well, and that kid is the danger. Not just to the other 2 kids, but to the mom as well.


I am wishing for a quick and safe resolution, but if I have to choose between those two things....safe for the kid wins hands down.

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Kwea
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Well, things are going OK, but we are kinda in a Catch-22 here. We are not the guardian, my MIL is, but she wants us to let the kid stay here during the week.

I think we are going to have a sit down meeting with all of the adults, and lay down some across the board rules for her. At this point I have no motivation to become further involved, and I refuse to take any responsibility for her unless I can also enforce my rules while she stays here. No calling her MA boyfriend (who is 17, BTW) 15 or more (no exaggeration) a day. The cash she is being sent goes to upkeep, not to crap. And the rules here and at Grandma's have to be the same.


Otherwise, grandma can move out of her housing and pay for everything herself.

It simply isn't fair for us to pay for everything, and change our whole lives, only to have her play us against ourselves to get what she wants. She is a good kid, but that doesn't mean she will stay that way on her own. She isn't used to having boundaries, which is part of why she ended up here.


-Rob

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
The only way to avoid that is to report an unsafe environment, and let DCF take her once she gets back to MA. That would be known as the "nuclear option", because there is no turning back once a family member does that to another family member.

Is it genuinely an unsafe environment?
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rivka
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Good luck.
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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
The only way to avoid that is to report an unsafe environment, and let DCF take her once she gets back to MA. That would be known as the "nuclear option", because there is no turning back once a family member does that to another family member.

Is it genuinely an unsafe environment?
I believe it may be, but part of the problem is that I am here in FL and the family situation up there is in MA, so I have been removed from it for years now (thank God).

Put it this way....her mom had fears for her OWN safety, which is how we ended up involved in the first place.

DCF already wants to take the kids away, perhaps for good. My MIL took the youngest to avoid her from going to foster care...and there is a legal case pending, between the oldest boy and the middle sister, where she is lying about a physical altercation between them.

If the middle girl is still there, then yes, I fear it may be unsafe. They are trying to work out how to remove the middle one legally, for the safety of the whole family. I don't think that anything else will make it safe....and I fear that even that might not be enough.

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Samprimary
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What's the situation with the middle girl? I take it that there's been plenty of concerns of physical violence — underlying stuff? BPD? ODD? Other stuff?
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Scott R
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If there's a court case, Kwea, you may want to refrain from publishing details here.
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Samprimary
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if you become involved in a court case, yes. And in that case you do more than refrain from publishing (some) information, you ask to get the thread nuked. it's actually the most common reason why I nuke threads for people.
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rivka
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He's the thread starter. He can nuke it himself.
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Samprimary
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Oh yeah. Weirdos and your self-nukes.
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