It is a sad fact that a growing number of parents in British Columbia and across Canada are unable to provide for the basic needs of their children. This may be because of financial circumstances, substance abuse or other issues. Often, it is a temporary situation, and the children may find a safe and stable home elsewhere while their parents seek help for their own issues.
Occasionally, however, the parents are unable to overcome their hardships, and the well-being of the children is in jeopardy. When this happens, someone who is already caring for the children may seek a more permanent form of custody. If you have been the temporary guardian of your grandchildren, a sibling’s children or the children of another family member for at least six months, you may feel it is time to investigate a more stable and permanent solution.
Your responsibilities and rights
Guardianship is not meant to be permanent. However, the well-being of the children is first in the eyes of British Columbia family courts. If the court agrees that the children’s best interests will be met by remaining with you rather than returning them to their parents, it may grant you permanent custody. Some important facts to understand about permanent custody include the following:
- It is different from adoption because the children do not automatically become your legal heirs nor do they lose their right to an inheritance from their parents.
- The parents must agree to the transfer of custody and so must the children if they are older than 12 years, although the court may intervene for the sake of the children.
- You will undergo an assessment by a social worker, and all those living in your home will be subject to a criminal background check.
- You will assume expenses for the children’s health care, including insurance and expenses involving dental, optical and medical needs.
- The province will provide you a stipend each month for the support of the children.
If the court grants you permanent custody, you will have the right to make all normal decisions for the children regarding their education, religious upbringing, food and clothing, and all other physical and emotional needs. Any rights of the parents or others, including court-ordered custody or access, terminate when you assume permanent custody, although those who had previous access may apply for new orders.
Before you undertake the process of pursuing permanent custody of children, you would be wise to learn as much as you can about your rights and responsibilities, along with what you might expect throughout the process. An experienced lawyer can be an effective advocate for your cause.