What Is a Natural Guardian?

A natural guardian, in legal terms, is a child’s biological or adopted mother or father. In a divorce, either or both parents may be granted legal custody with guardian rights. A natural guardian is empowered to make a wide range of decisions for a minor child. These decisions include medical and financial matters that legally require a parent or guardian’s consent.

Key Takeaways

  • A natural guardian is a child’s mother or father, biological or adopted.
  • While a natural guardian has the legal right to make many decisions for a minor child, the guardian also has responsibilities.
  • Failure to provide for a child can cause a natural guardian to lose custody of that child to a guardian appointed by a court.

Understanding Natural Guardians

A natural guardian typically makes day-to-day decisions for a minor child. However, the appointment of a guardian or conservator is subject to probate law. A parent is usually a guardian, except when there is a divorce. However, a guardian is not always a parent. Someone other than a parent may be appointed guardian via a parent’s will or by a court. Courts generally only appoint a guardian if a parent is deceased or deemed unable to care for a child.

The terms and rules will vary by state. An adult appointed as a guardian of a minor child may also be appointed as a conservator. A conservator is sometimes referred to as the guardian of an estate. As a conservator, a guardian is responsible for financial decisions and managing assets the minor child may have through inheritance or earnings. Typically, a natural guardian has the legal right to open accounts and manage money until the child becomes an adult. A court can assign the same responsibilities to a conservator.

When a child with a mental disability becomes an adult, a parent may need to be appointed by a court as a guardian or conservator. In these cases, a natural guardian needs an order to continue making medical, personal, and financial decisions that the disabled person is incapable of making.

Advantages of Natural Guardians

The main advantage of recognizing natural guardians is that virtually all children immediately have someone responsible for their care. No legal intervention or related expenses are necessary. Furthermore, the concept of a natural guardian is itself natural. The vast majority of parents have a natural interest in caring for their children.

Disadvantages of Natural Guardians

The main disadvantage of natural guardians is that seemingly unfit parents often retain guardianship until they do something terribly wrong. Unfit natural guardians are more of a liability than an asset for children. Critics of automatic natural guardianship complain that you need a license to drive a car, but anyone is allowed to have kids.

What makes a natural guardian unfit can be highly subjective.

Requirements for Natural Guardians

While a natural guardian has the right to make decisions for a minor child, the guardian also has responsibilities. All guardians are required to make sure that those in their care receive adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Failure to provide for a child can cause a natural guardian to lose custody of that child to a guardian appointed by a court.

Natural guardians also have a duty to provide some type of education, but these requirements are more variable. Sending children to public schools, charter schools, and certified private schools is always acceptable. However, the requirements for home schooling vary significantly from one state to another.

Medicine is another area where the requirements for natural guardians are less clear. Failure to provide any treatment at all for severe injuries is a reason for appointing a new guardian. On the other hand, courts have often sided with natural guardians who object to specific medical procedures for their children on religious grounds.