Guardianship of Children


There are two types of guardianships for children. The first type is connected with the Juvenile Dependency Court. In those cases, a child has been removed from the home by a Child Protective Services social worker because there is information that the child is being neglected, abused, or is in danger. The child then lives in a licensed home while a number of court actions take place. One of the actions is to try and reunify the child with his or her parents. If reunification is not successful, a guardian may be appointed for the child. Relatives or friends may be appointed to serve. The guardianship usually continues to exist until the child turns 18.

The other type of guardianship is handled by the Probate Court. In these guardianships, the child lives with the person who is the guardian. That person, typically a family member, decides that a formal court guardianship is necessary and petitions the Court to become the guardian. The parents of the child are unable to care for the child for a variety of reasons: a serious illness, military duty in another country, drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, or even death. Unlike Juvenile Dependency Court, the Probate Court does not terminate parental rights. The parents may, however, request visitation or file a petition for the Court to terminate the guardianship. The guardian also can file a petition for termination of a probate guardianship and so can a child if he or she is 12 years old or over. The Judge will then decide, after an investigation, whether it is in the best interests of the child to continue the guardianship or to terminate it.


Guardianship of Children - Self-Help

If you want to ask for guardianship of a child younger than 12 years old who is living with you in San Francisco, you can get help by making an appointment with the ACCESS Center. The minor child must currently reside with the proposed guardian in San Francisco County.

If you already filed for guardianship and need help giving notice to all the necessary people, the ACCESS Center can help you figure out who to give notice to (serve) and how to serve them.

If you want to ask the Court to end the guardianship, the ACCESS Center can show you how to fill out the forms and explain the legal process.

Probate Guardianship Process

When a petition for probate guardianship is filed, a court investigator goes out to the home of the child to see why the guardianship is needed. The investigator interviews everyone in the situation, including the parents if they are available. Many times, parents think a guardianship is the best thing for their child, at least for a while. The Probate Court staff also checks to see if the guardian or any other adults in the household has a criminal background or has been involved in child abuse or neglect. The investigator then writes a confidential report for the Judge and gives a copy to the attorney who is representing the proposed guardian. The parents or other relatives receive a copy of the report if they file objections to the proposed guardianship. The Judge may decide to appoint an attorney to represent the child – especially if there is a lot of conflict among the adults.

A probate guardianship of the person may be appointed so that a guardian can take care of the physical, emotional, and educational needs of a child. A probate guardian of estate may be established when a child has assets, will inherit assets, or is the beneficiary of a deceased parent's insurance policy. Most guardianships are of person only. In some cases, there is a guardianship of both person and estate.

Guardianship Appointment Hearings

When the appointment hearing date arrives, the proposed guardian and the child must come to Court. Guardianship appointment hearings are held on Tuesday afternoons. A short film that outlines the responsibilities of the guardian is shown first. Then the Judge listens to the people in each case. Sometimes parents object to the proposed guardianship or to the proposed guardian. The Judge may decide to appoint a guardian to care for the child but also may require that the guardian and parents have a visitation schedule. If they are in conflict and cannot agree on the arrangements, the Judge may refer the case to a mediator who can help everyone work out their differences. The mediator is trained by the Court and does not charge a fee. Sometimes there is concern that a parent who wants to spend time with the child may have abused the child. In those cases, supervised visitation may be needed. The Probate Court can help arrange that service.

After a Guardian has been Appointed

Even after a guardian has been appointed, the Probate Court continues to be concerned about the child. All guardians are required to submit a yearly Status Report form which has questions about how the child is doing. The form is sent to the guardian by the Probate Court along with a return envelope. In addition, the Probate Court sends out trained and supervised volunteers periodically to see how the child is doing and to determine if the guardian needs help. When there is guardianship of the estate, the guardian must submit regular accountings to the Court for review by the probate examiners.

All children need care and attention. Fortunately, there are people in our community who are willing to step forward and serve as guardians when parents are not available. The Probate Court is part of this process by appointing guardians for children, by helping make certain that children in guardianship are protected, and by helping guardians get the information they need.