A guardian is a person with the legal responsibility to protect the well-being and rights of another. A guardian also has authority to make certain legal decisions for the person.
Parents are deemed to be the guardians of their biological children under age 18. A parent who adopts a child becomes the guardian of the adopted child. A parent may voluntarily relinquish guardianship of a child under age 18 and grant guardianship to another adult.
Upon turning age 18 all Vermonters are presumed to be competent to make their own decisions and to have a right of self-determination. A parent is no longer considered the guardian of a child once the child turns 18. Any guardianship for an adult must be authorized by a court.
Most adults with mental disabilities can make decisions for themselves. They may need extra support and time to learn to make decisions. There are many alternatives to guardianship which can provide the protections a person needs. Guardianship should be pursued only as a last resort.
Guardianship for Children under 18
Parents are deemed to be the guardians of their children under age 18.
Mental Health Services and its designated agencies do not take children or adolescents into custody; they provide services on a voluntary basis.
A parent may voluntarily relinquish guardianship of a child under age 18 and grant guardianship to another adult; this is done in Probate Court. The Probate Court may also grant guardianship to an adult other than the parent when requested by the child or by a person other than the parent.
A child who is abandoned, neglected, or beyond parental control may be placed under guardianship by the Family Court. If the Family Court finds that a child is in need of care and supervision for his physical, mental or moral welfare, the court can grant guardianship to the Commissioner of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), a private individual, or a private child placement agency.
For more information, call the Department for Children and Families District Office or go to the Department for Children and Families website.
Laws relating to guardianship for children are at 14 V.S.A. Chapter 111.
Guardianship of Adults
A public guardianship program was established in 1988 by the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) to provide guardianship services to people 60 years of age and over for whom a suitable and willing private guardian cannot be found.
Every effort to locate a suitable private guardian must be made before a public guardian may be appointed. The Office of Public Guardian is also available to provide information to the public about guardianship and its alternatives, and to assist private guardians in understanding and carrying out their duties.
For more information, call Office of Public Guardian at (802) 828-2143 or Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent (802) 871-3065 (Division of Disability and Aging Services). For TTY, call (802) 241-3557.
The Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living public guardians are appointed by the Probate Court.
Alternatives to Guardianship
Independence and self-determination are important to all people. Because guardianship for adults is intrusive and involves the removal of rights from an individual, it should be considered only after reasonable alternatives have been considered. Some alternatives are easier and less costly than court procedures; others are not.
Like guardianship itself, the success of alternatives to guardianship depends greatly upon the skill of the support people for the individual, and the relationships among the individual’s circle of support. Parents or others who are supporting an individual with any of the alternatives listed in this section should:
- Be willing to listen to the person’s voice
- Honestly assess the person’s ability
- Be willing to respect the person’s dream
- Be available in crisis
- Be willing to do needed paperwork
- Be a creative advocate
- Keep the individual informed about what you are doing
An adult (person at least 18 years of age) who wants assistance with management of his or her affairs may file a petition with the Probate Court in the county where he or she is living. Additional information about voluntary guardianship is available from the local Probate Court.
NOTE: Under Vermont law, voluntary guardianship is not permitted for individuals who are diagnosed as being mentally ill or mentally retarded. This is because procedures for voluntary guardianships were commonly misused in the past for individuals with mental disabilities.
Any guardianship for an individual with a mental illness or mental retardation must follow the procedures for involuntary guardianship.