Provide Care for Others

What to Do When Your Grandkids Move in with You

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You’ve recently found yourself, due to unforeseen circumstances, the temporary caregiver for your grandchild(ren). Whether temporary means a few months or a few years, you’re overwhelmed by the logistics and aren’t sure what your responsibilities are legally and financially.

Below are some of the basics of what you need to know if your grandchildren are temporarily living with you.

You don’t have custody of your grandchildren just because they are living with you.

Let’s say the parent(s) asked you to care for your grandkids for a certain period of time. Maybe this is because of an illness, a move, a divorce, financial problems, domestic or substance abuse, etc. Just because you say yes and your grandkids start living with you doesn’t give you any legal rights to make decisions for that child.

That means if something as serious as a medical issue or as simple as a school field trip were to occur while the kids are staying with you, you have no rights unless you’ve been made their legal guardian. You’ll want to consider having a legal document in place that shows you have the right to make decisions on your grandkids’ behalf.

This document can be called a variety of different things:

  • Power of attorney for minors
  • Custodial consent form
  • Temporary guardianship agreement

Whatever it’s called, the document is one specifically designed to grant custody of a minor child for a limited period of time to someone other than the child’s parents. You can have an attorney help you customize the specifics of the document but generally it covers medical or educational situations that may arise. You can also include specifics on who covers any expenses related to the child while you have temporary custody.  

Note that some states may have a form they require adults who aren’t permanent legal guardians to fill out for specific situations like enrolling a child in school. Check with a local attorney to make sure you’ve completed all the forms you need for your state. You’ll also want to make sure you have the form notarized so that it is an official legal document.

Temporary Guardianship from the Courts

Another option is to be appointed your grandchildren’s temporary guardian by the courts. This process varies by state but generally involves petitioning the court (submitting forms with the help of an attorney) to be named the children’s guardian for a limited amount of time.

The parents are expected to agree and sign the petition, agreeing that for the amount of time stated, you will be in charge of making legal, medical, educational, etc. decisions for the children. The court will also help determine what rights the parents will still have during this time period and if they will need to pay any sort of child support to you.

Kinship Care

If any child welfare agencies are involved, you may be in what’s referred to as a kinship care situation. If the parents are cooperating, the child welfare agency may have made an arrangement for you to provide temporary care without having to go through the court system. If this is the case, the parents should have signed a consent form that gives you temporary rights. This is known as voluntary kinship care.

Perhaps the parents aren’t cooperating or the children have been removed from the home and placed in state’s custody by a judge. You may be granted physical custody but the state retains legal custody of the children (and is therefore responsible for any medical or educational decisions).  This is known as formal kinship care and you must be certified as foster parents in order to provide care in this situation.

How to Decide Which Form of Custody Is Right for You

When determining which form of custody is best for your situation, you’ll want to consider:

  • How long you expect to be taking care of your grandchildren. Keep in mind that sometimes circumstances change, so what might have seemed like a very short-term situation with no need for legal documentation can turn into you providing months or years of care fairly quickly. If you don’t have temporary guardianship or formal kinship care when this happens, you could be stuck with no legal grounds for making important decisions – and with no financial support from the government.
  • The parents’ attitudes. Are they supportive, trustworthy and reliable? Do you believe you can come to an agreement without the involvement of the courts? If not, you’ll want to consider something more formal like temporary guardianship.
  • Your financial situation. Providing for your grandchildren can be financially overwhelming, especially if it happens unexpectedly with no time to plan. Kinship care and temporary guardianship can provide you support from the state or parents, but it most likely is never going to cover all the new expenses that come along with taking care of kids. If you’re on a fixed income or already retired, this could be especially challenging for you.

There are government programs that can provide assistance you might want to look into if you’ll be taking care of your grandchildren for a significant amount of time. The best place to start is seeing if you qualify for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (qualifications vary by state). The children may qualify for Medicaid or your state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.


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