Choosing Guardians for Minor Children – Part 2: Factors to Consider

There are a host of factors that might be considered in choosing guardians for a minor child.  Not all of the factors and questions raised below will apply to all families or be given the same weight, but they are mentioned as a means to provide some ideas and a starting point to think about what is important for each child when deciding who should be nominated as guardians.

1.  Geographical Considerations

If there would not be the possibility of a nominated guardian moving into the child's home, then the guardian's location of residence may be something to consider.  The level of relocation difficulty will depend to some degree on the age of the child, since infants, toddlers, and elementary school children may be more "portable," whereas high schoolers may feel more interwoven into the fabric of their friends, school, extra-curriculars and community, and less enthusiastic about starting over elsewhere.  Also, does the child receive certain accommodations for a learning disability or other special needs from the current school system?  Would these or comparable accommodations be available in the guardian's community?

Relocating can be more of a challenge if the nominated guardian lives out of state or even in another country.  Does the child understand or speak the predominant language of the country?  Where does the guardian live in relation to the child's other relatives?  Would the child be able to maintain meaningful relationships with his or her other relatives from the guardian's location?  If there will also be a trustee of a trust for the benefit of the child, is it important in the particular circumstances for the guardian and trustee to know each other or to live in the same community/state/country?

For a family with a large number of children, it may not be possible for any potential guardian to house four, five, six or more children at their location.  While not ideal, sometimes siblings might need to be split up into more than one household.  If this situation occurs, then how close do the nominated guardians live to each other?  Do they know each other?  How able and willing would they be to support the siblings in spending time with each other?

2.  Physical Considerations

Would the nominated guardian's household be able to accommodate taking on the child?  If the guardian needed an additional bedroom, would it be possible for the guardian to use existing space or would the guardian need to consider moving to a larger home?  Does the child have any physical limitations or special needs that would require specific accommodation, such as a wheelchair ramp? Would the child need a bedroom on the entry level floor?  If there are financial resources available for the benefit of the child, it might be possible to partially or fully fund an access ramp, conversion of a room to a bedroom, or an addition to the home.  However, this would probably not be possible if the guardian lives in an apartment, condominium,  town house, or duplex (semi-detached), where there would be restrictions or prohibitions on adding to or changing the building structure.

Would the child be bringing the family pets with him or her, and does the guardian have an allergy to the pets?  Are pets even allowed at the guardian's residence?  Or in the reverse situation, does the child have an allergy to the guardian's pets?  Would the guardian be able to care for the child if the child has specific medical conditions, like juvenile diabetes, asthma, or a diagnosis along the Autism spectrum disorder?  Is the child or the guardian a vegetarian or vegan, or does one maintain a Kosher household or have other specific food restrictions?

Are there other children in the guardian's household?  How similar or disparate are the guardian's children from the child in age?  How welcoming or accepting might the guardian's children be to the child?

3.  Developmental Considerations

Nominated guardians should be reviewed every few years because different individuals may make better guardians for the child depending on the child's developmental stage.  Some guardians might be perfect for infants and toddlers, while others might not have the same affinity or availability for younger children.  What is the nature of the values in the guardian's home?  Are they similar to the parents' values?  Would there be religious upbringing?  What kind of involvement would the parents and guardian anticipate the child having in the religious community?  With the child's loss of his or her parents, would the guardian be able to provide the emotional support the child will need?

There may also be changes in the guardian's life that might make the guardian a better or lesser candidate.  Since nominated, has the guardian married?  Divorced?  Separated?  If the guardian has recently divorced, he or she may not be financially or emotionally positioned to assume responsibility for the child.  Does the guardian have his or her own children with special needs?  Has the guardian remarried such that it is a blended family where the guardian's spouse's own children will need to live in the household on a regular basis?

4.  Other Considerations

Is there great financial disparity between the child's family and the guardian's family?  If the guardian's family has significantly lesser means, will this cause hostility or resentment?  What if the child has financial resources available to send him or her to private school but this is not a possibility for the guardian's children?  Is it a situation where the child's parents attended college and so they expect the child to also attend college, but the guardian and the guardian's family do not have the same expectations for their own children?  Or the reverse, if there are not enough resources from the parents to pay for the child's college education, is the guardian expected to help pay for this?

If there are special desires the parents have for the child, such as sending the child to a particular overnight summer camp, or to annual family reunions with the child's family in another state, are these activities or events that the guardian will be able and willing to support?

All of these considerations are just that, things to consider.  No guardian will be able to exactly replace the home and parents the child lost, so the key is to choose the guardian who at present and for the next few years would be available and willing to become the child's caretaker as best possible, taking into account the child's needs, the parents' values and wishes, and the situations of the nominated guardians.

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