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Legal Services

As you raise the children in your care, you probably have your hands full. Working with the legal system may be the last thing you want to worry about. It can be costly and confusing to say the least.   

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 documentation to take them for 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.

Making the Law Work for You

Only you can decide what is right for your family, not your lawyer, not your neighbor, not your best friend. Start by looking at the needs of the children in your care and how best to meet them. Then think about what will work for your family. Be honest about what you do well and what will be difficult. Try not only to think about today, but also when the children are older. Remember that the law is a tool, and a lawyer is someone who can help you use that tool. With effort, you can make the law work for you.

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 the risks involved in those choices. 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, a lawyer may be able to 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.

Look for a lawyer with experience in child welfare, guardianship and adoption. Ask if the lawyer knows about programs (such as SSI or adoption subsidies) that may be an option for your family.

If you are unable to afford an attorney

  • 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 article.
  • 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. 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 attorneys willing to take your case

What Is Legal Custody?

If you are a 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 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 be completely responsible for the child’s care.  You can decide whether to maintain any level of contact with the birth family, but any decisions are not legally enforceable. 

Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney is only applicable to grandparents under current state law.  Power of attorney allows you 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. (see additional resources below)
  • 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. If you have questions about obtaining a Power of Attorney, call the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Help Desk at 1-866-886-3537 and select option 4.

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 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. (see additional resources below)
  • 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’ Help Desk at 1-866-886-3537 and select option 4.

Additional Information: