By, Laurie Goggins, Staff Attorney, Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, Inc.
One of the most rewarding experiences an attorney from the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society can have is to assist a client to obtain Guardianship or Third Party Custody of a child. While both of these procedures enable a person to become the legal caregiver for a child, the requirements and procedures for each differ. The need for both guardianship and third party custody arise when a child’s parents are no longer able to care for them. There are many situations where this can occur. For example, a parent may be suffering from a debilitating illness, may be incarcerated, may struggle with addiction, or may be deceased.
Guardianships are filed in Probate Court. With proper consents of all parties, guardianships for minors may be granted without a formal hearing. Certain requirements must be met including the need for the petitioner to be free of any felony convictions.
A guardianship may not be granted if paternity has been established in another court, a child support order is in place, or there has been a dissolution of marriage. In these situations the appropriate action is to file for third party custody. Petitions for third party custody are filed in both Circuit and Superior Court. Typically a petitioner must file a motion to intervene as well as a petition for third party custody. If there is not an agreement by all involved parties, a hearing is held to determine if third party custody should be granted.
Recently the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society was able to assist a client in obtaining third party custody of three siblings. In this particular situation the children had been adopted by their maternal grandparents. Sadly, the grandmother died and a few years later the grandfather died. The children were now in their pre-teen and teenage years. Without a place to go, or other family members available, the future of the children seemed hopeless. Then, the childhood friend of the grandparents stepped forward and took all of the children into her home. With the assistance of the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, this client was able to petition the court and be awarded custody of the children. The children are doing well and are once again in a stable and loving environment.
In another situation a woman came to the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society to seek guardianship of an infant. The mother of the child had impending legal issues and was facing incarceration. The mother wanted to know that the child would be well cared for while she was away. She had asked the client, a family friend, to take care of her child. The Indianapolis Legal Aid Society assisted the client in obtaining guardianship of the infant. Thanks to this client, the baby was placed in a stable, loving home.
For the attorneys who do these cases, there is a lot of satisfaction in seeing such a happy outcome for children who would otherwise be displaced. The Indianapolis Legal Aid Society is proud to do this work and happy to provide training for any attorneys who wish to volunteer their time in these worthwhile cases.
Any attorney interested in volunteering to assist the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society should contact John Floreancig, ILAS Executive Director, at 317.635.9538.•