How to Draft a Child Custody or Guardian Letter or Document
By Lindsay Kramer
Updated June 18, 2019
A minor child must have at least one legal parent or guardian. A child who does not have a legal parent or guardian is often known as a ward of the state or a ward of the court. When a parent cannot care for his child, he can grant another adult legal guardianship, either temporarily or indefinitely. Legal guardianship is not the same as child custody – a parent or a judge may appoint a guardian, whereas only the court can grant custody.
Legal guardianship is not the same as child custody – a parent or the court may appoint a guardian, whereas only the court can grant custody.
Include All Relevant Details
A child custody letter and a legal guardian letter must include all relevant details about the child, the adult seeking custody or guardianship, and the terms of the proposed arrangement. Details that must be in both types of letters include:
- The names of the child and the adults involved.
- Contact information for all adults involved.
Details for a legal guardian letter include:
- The period of time the adult will remain the child’s legal guardian, including start and end dates.
- The scope of the guardianship agreement.
- Circumstances that terminate the guardianship agreement.
- Specific instructions for the child’s care.
- Circumstances under which guardianship of the child may be transferred to another party.
A child custody agreement letter is a bit different from a legal guardian letter. A custody agreement letter – the document submitted to the court that outlines a proposed child custody arrangement – must include:
- A proposed visitation or joint custody schedule.
- Provisions of the proposed parenting plan, such as how the parents will handle decisions about the child’s medical care.
- Circumstances under which the custody arrangement could change.
Drafting a Child Custody Agreement Letter
Child custody agreement letters are often submitted to the court along with a petition for divorce. If both of a child’s parents agree to the terms set out in the custody letter, the court approves it and creates a child custody order. If one parent opposes the other’s proposed custody order, he may contest it, and the parents can either work together to negotiate an appropriate child custody order or the court will determine the ideal custody arrangement.
A child custody letter should outline why the proposed custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. The child’s best interest is the standard that all child-related court orders are held to, but in issues where the court has the final say, such as child custody, proving that a proposed arrangement is in the child’s best interest is paramount.
Drafting a Legal Guardian Letter
Enacting a legal guardianship for a child is not the same as granting custody for the child. Legal guardianship does not cancel out a parent’s legal right to her child. In other words, legal parentage and legal guardianship can coexist.
The requirements for legal guardianship letters for minor children vary from state to state. Typically, a formal guardianship arrangement is necessary for the long-term or indefinite transfer of a child’s legal guardianship. A legal guardian letter, which is a more informal document than a custody agreement letter, is all that is needed for a short-term transfer of guardianship. In some states, such as Maine, legal guardianship letters are not recognized – in these states, every guardianship issue is handled through the courts.
There are many reasons why a parent might name another adult as her child’s temporary legal guardian. Some of these are:
- The parent’s military deployment.
- The parent enters an inpatient rehabilitation or treatment facility.
- The parent is traveling, domestically or abroad, to act as a caregiver for a loved one.
A legal guardian letter must be filed with the circuit court of the county where the child lives.
Where to File a Custody Agreement Letter
When a child custody order is part of a divorce proceeding, it is filed with the court of the county where the divorce is being handled, typically the home county of at least one of the child’s parents. When another adult, not a parent, pursues custody, such as a grandparent, the custody agreement letter is filed in the county court where the child lives.
- A custody agreement may be signed at any stage of a divorce proceeding, even if other aspects of the divorce are still contested
- Guardianship letters can be dated to start upon the parent's death as a means of insuring that the child is cared for by a person selected by his parent.
Lindsay Kramer is a freelance writer and editor from New Jersey. She loves singing, laughing, cooking, and exploring new places. Aside from writing, Lindsay enjoys surfing and reading tarot cards.