Finding Help with Legal Services and Understanding Legal Services


Finding Help with Legal Services

As you raise the children in your care, you probably have your hands full. Lawyers-and, in fact, the whole legal system-may be the last thing you want to think about. You also have to be concerned about expenses. You may be thinking, "OK, if I must go to court, I'll do it on my own.” These concerns are legitimate, but the truth is you will probably have to use the legal system, and the services of a lawyer, if you continue to raise the children in your care. You will have to take some steps to keep the children safe and secure. You will probably need legal papers just to get them medical care or enroll them in school. You may also need legal help to plan for their future or to keep them safe from harm. You will need to make decisions that require sound legal advice.


Finding a Lawyer

The decisions you make about legal issues are important. A lawyer can help you understand what each choice may mean for your family, and whether those choices might result in any legal risks. A lawyer can also help to work out agreements with the parents and present facts to the judge. If the children in your care need cash benefits or medical coverage from the government, a lawyer may help with this, too. The attorney you hire should be one who knows the law, who will work well with you, and who can argue effectively for the rights of the children in your care. Call the offices of a few lawyers and ask about their legal experience and fees. Look for a lawyer with experience in abuse and neglect law, guardianship and adoption. Ask if the lawyer knows about programs (such as SSI or adoption subsidies) that may be an option for your family.

When you find an attorney you like, preferably one who gives free initial consultations, make an appointment. Go to that first meeting with a list of the main facts of the case. Provide the lawyer with all of these facts, including facts that could hurt your case. Agree to hire the lawyer only if you feel comfortable with that individual and if you feel that you can work as a team.


If You Can't Afford to Pay

Legal Services. Also known as Legal Aid, these law offices help low-income people with common legal problems. A list of legal resources can be found at the end of this chapter.

Law School Clinics. If you live near a law school, see if they have a clinic that represents kinship caregivers in child welfare or custody cases. A law student may be able to work with you, supervised by an experienced lawyer.

Pro Bono Lawyers. Sometimes private lawyers will work for free or for a reduced fee. If you are trying to change an unfair law or challenge an unfair state policy, you might find an interested lawyer. For more information, call the Ohio State Bar Association at 614-487-2050. Also contact your county or city bar association to see if they might have pro bona attorneys willing to take your case.


What is Legal Custody?

If you are an adult kinship caregiver, court-ordered legal custody can give you certain rights and responsibilities with respect to the child you are raising. Legal custody will allow you to:
  • Provide emotional support for the child.
  • Determine where and with whom the child will live.
  • Make many of the major decisions regarding the child's care, upbringing, education and medical needs.
  • Provide food, shelter, education and ordinary medical care for the child.
  • Protect and discipline the child.

Legal custody is not limited to parents and blood relatives. If it is best for the emotional and physical well-being of the child, the court may award legal custody to an unrelated person who has demonstrated a willingness and ability to raise the child. When a child is born, the mother automatically has legal custody-and so does the father, if they are married. Kinship caregivers, however, must go to a court to get legal custody of the children in their care.


Types of Legal Custody

There are three ways to gain legal custody of a child:

A Custody Order. If a judge issues you a custody order, this means you will be responsible for the child's day-to-day care but the parents will continue to have a legal relationship with the child. They will have a right to visit (unless the judge says they cannot) and could someday ask a judge to return custody to them.

Guardianship. If you are appointed the child's legal guardian, this means you will be given day-to-day responsibility for the child, while the parents keep some rights. The main difference between a custody order and guardianship is that guardianship is usually granted in the probate court, with different rules.

Adoption. If you adopt the child, you will become the child's legal parent in every way. The legal relationship between the child and the child's birth parents will end, and you will decide if and when they visit. The birth parents will never again have the right to ask a judge to send the children back to them, except in extremely rare situations during the first year after an adoption decree is issued.


Two Other Options

If you are a grandparent currently caring for your grandchild, but you do not have legal custody or guardianship and are unable to make decisions about and access educational and medical services for your grandchild, there are two other ways you can obtain "care, physical custody and control": a Power of Attorney or a Child Caretaker Authorization Affidavit.

Power of Attorney
Power of Attorney allows you temporarily to:
  • Authorize your grandchild's enrollment in school.
  • Access educational information.
  • Be involved in the child's educational planning.
  • Provide consent for educational activities.
  • Arrange for the child's routine and emergency medical, dental and psychological treatment.

To obtain Power of Attorney for your grandchild, you must:
  • Fill out the appropriate form. (Refer to the appendix.)
  • Understand and agree to the terms regarding Power of Attorney.
  • Provide the signature of the consenting parent, yourself and the official notary.
  • File the form with your local juvenile court within five days of signing.
  • A Power of Attorney does not give you authority over your grandchild's adoption, marriage or custody arrangements.

Caretaker Authorization Affidavit

If you have tried but failed to locate your grandchild's parents after making reasonable efforts to do so, you may obtain a Child Caretaker Authorization Affidavit. The Child Caretaker Authorization Affidavit allows you temporarily to:
  • Authorize your grandchild's enrollment in school.
  • Access educational information.
  • Be involved in the child's educational planning.
  • Provide consent for educational activities.
  • Arrange for the child's routine and emergency medical, dental and psychological treatment.

To obtain a Child Caretaker Authorization Affidavit, you must:
  • Fill out the appropriate form. (Refer to the appendix)
  • Understand and agree to the terms regarding the Child Caretaker
  • Authorization Affidavit.
  • Provide your signature and that of an official notary.
  • File the form with your local juvenile court within five days of signing it.

A Child Caretaker Authorization Affidavit does not give you authority over your grandchild's adoption, marriage or custody arrangements. If you have questions about obtaining a Caretaker Authorization Affidavit, call the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' Kinship Program Coordinator at 614-466-1213.


What is Foster Care?

Foster Care is a federally mandated program administered by public children services agencies and supervised by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The purpose of foster care is to provide a safe environment for children and youth who temporarily cannot live with their families. The goal of foster care is to safely return the child to the parents or, when that is not possible, move the child into an adoptive or permanent home. In cases where a court has found a child to be abused or neglected, the court may certify a related caregiver or family friend as the foster parent.

Once a child is formally placed with a relative or friend who has been officially approved and licensed as a foster parent, the public children services agency (not the caregiver) maintains legal custody over the child. In the eyes of the law, the public children services agency is considered the legal custodian of the child and has ultimate control over all decisions concerning the child, including the decision to keep or not to keep the child in the caregiver's home. While the foster caregiver does have certain daily responsibilities for the care of the child, the caregiver does not have legal authority unless legal custody, guardianship or adoption is pursued.


Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. (n.d.) Ohio Resource Guide for Relatives Caring for Children [Brochure]. Retrieved from http://www.odjfs.state.oh.us/forms/file.asp?id=1779&type=application/pdf