If you are caring for a child who is not your natural child, say your grandchild, niece or nephew, or partner’s child, you may be interested to know about guardianship. While guardianship may appear to have little to do with the practical aspects of caring for a child, it has a significant impact on the rights and duties you have for the child. This is because, under the Family Law Act, only guardians may exercise parental responsibilities for a child. Parental responsibilities include making decisions for the child, like where the child lives and goes to school, and applying for or renewing the child’s passport.
If the child’s natural parents are unavailable, for some of the time or always, it may be especially important for you to consider becoming a guardian.
Becoming a Guardian in British Columbia
There is only one way to become a guardian in British Columbia: by court order. This is the case even when the child’s natural parents agree that you should become a guardian. Becoming a guardian does not impact the rights and duties of the other guardians. A child can have several guardians, and each guardian may exercise parental responsibilities for him or her.
Who can Apply to be a Guardian and What are the Requirements?
Anyone can apply to court for guardianship of a child, but the order will only be made if it is in the child’s best interests. You will need to provide the court with certain information such as your relationship with the child, the living arrangements for the child and how you plan to care for the child. You will also need to get three background checks:
- a criminal records check,
- a Ministry of Children and Family Development records check, and
- a Protection Order Registry Records check.
You can get the criminal records check at your local RCMP detachment. You can get the two other background checks at the court registry where you file your application.
You can file your application in either provincial court or supreme court. Along with your application, you will need to file a document called an affidavit. An affidavit is a statement sworn before a lawyer or notary public (we recommend that you have a family law lawyer prepare and review it for you). The affidavit will set out the relevant information about the child and attach the three background checks. You will need to be mindful of certain timing requirements. For example, the background checks must be done no more than 60 days before the day you appear in court on your application.
There are online resources available to help guide you through the application process. Family duty counsel, lawyers who work at the court registry, may also be of help. And, of course, there is always the option of hiring a family law lawyer to obtain your guardianship order. We are happy to meet with you to discuss your situation and go over your options. Please feel free to Contact Us at your convenience.