Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Knowing the Signs

Despite the many ways in which each human is totally unique, there is a common thread that unites us all. That is: at one point or another, each of us has relied on care from other humans in order to survive. 

While most may be familiar with how this concept appears in the context of infancy, our early years aren’t the only stage of life in which we depend on others. From childhood to retirement, we are all at risk for any number of illnesses, disabilities, or life circumstances that can leave us vulnerable. 

That’s where legal guardianship comes in. When a person of any age becomes unable to care for and make decisions for themselves, a trusted individual may step in and step up to support their loved one. 

Whether it’s for a child who needs a temporary caretaker, a teen with a disability, or an elderly adult, these dedicated guardians provide stability and a sense of security. Continue reading to delve into the intricacies of legal guardianship in New Mexico and the ways it can provide peace of mind in uncertain times.  

Minor Guardianship in New Mexico 

What is minor guardianship

The guardian of a child, or minor, is an adult who is responsible for maintaining the welfare of the minor and caring for their needs. Typically, the parents of a child are considered the default legal guardians. 

When the biological or adoptive parents of a child are unable to act as guardians, however, a separate party will step in. This individual, the legally appointed guardian, will be held accountable for decisions around the child’s care, health, education, and support. 

Who can become the guardian of a minor?

New Mexico guardianship law designates that any individual over the age of 18 can become the legal guardian of a minor. 

Often, the appointed guardian will be a family member, like an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Biological relation is not a requirement in the state of New Mexico, however, so any concerned party may step up to care for the child — be it a teacher, family friend, or neighbor. 

When does a child need a legal guardian? 

If the parent or parents of a child are deceased, unable to provide adequate care, or unable to exercise their parental rights, a legal guardian will be appointed. 

In cases of child abuse or domestic violence, as in non-violent cases as well, the court may establish permanent guardianship if it is in the child’s best interest. 

Learn More: Domestic Violence Awareness: Knowing the Signs

How long does minor guardianship last?

Temporary guardianship of a minor typically lasts 6 months, but there are cases in which permanent guardianship is granted. In the latter case, legal guardianship will remain in effect until the child turns 18. 

However, it is possible to have permanent guardianship of a minor revoked by a judge before the child reaches the age of 18. 

How does one petition for guardianship of a minor in New Mexico? 

To request temporary or permanent guardianship of a minor in New Mexico, an individual must first submit a petition for guardianship with the district court. From there, the prospective guardian will need to undergo rigorous investigation and will be required to testify in front of the court. 

Establishing minor guardianship can be a lengthy, complex process — it’s important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can facilitate the process and ensure all individual rights are protected. 

Is guardianship the same thing as child custody

While both the individual with custody of a child and a minor’s guardian may be held responsible for making decisions that protect and support the child, the two terms should not be used synonymously.

Child custody is used to refer to the legal relationship between a minor and their parent, whereas guardianship can be granted to any individual. The appointed guardianship of a child does not unequivocally negate custody rights, nor does the guardian receive child support

Learn More: New Mexico’s Guide to Spousal Support and Child Support

Adult Guardianship in New Mexico 

What is adult guardianship

Much like the legal guardianship of a minor, adult guardianship is enacted when an individual over the age of 18 is unable to care for themselves. 

What are the duties and responsibilities of an adult’s legal guardian? 

When a legal guardian is appointed to an adult, it becomes their duty to make decisions that benefit the wellbeing of the adult. The legal guardian will take responsibility for the adult’s medical, financial, and legal affairs as well as ensuring their basic care necessities — like food and shelter — are adequately met. 

When does an adult need a legal guardian? 

An adult may require a legal guardian to be appointed if they have a physical or cognitive disability, are recovering from an illness, or have reached an advanced age that prevents them from properly caring for themselves.

How long does legal guardianship of an adult last? 

Legal guardianship of an adult typically lasts as long as the recovery time, if the adult is on the mend from an illness or surgery. If the adult has a lifelong disability or requires a guardian due to aging, the guardianship will likely be in place until the individual passes away. 

Who can become the legal guardian of an adult? 

In most cases, a close friend or family member will be appointed to an adult in need of guardianship. While unlikely, it is possible that an adult will require a professional guardian instead, depending on the level of care needed and the availability of loved ones. 

How does one petition for guardianship of an adult in New Mexico?

The guardianship procedure for an adult differs slightly from that of a child, though both can be complicated legal processes. 

To petition for guardianship of an adult in New Mexico, the petitioner must not only file the appropriate paperwork, but also provide clear evidence that the individual in question is unable to make decisions about their own care. It is highly recommended that the petitioner partner with a compassionate legal team to simplify this process and help ease the adult through the transition. 

Is guardianship the same thing as a conservatorship? 

Guardianship and conservatorship share similar structures, but the two court-appointed relationships differ as well. 

Both involve having a trusted individual appointed to make decisions for an adult who is unable to safely do so themselves. Legal guardianship is typically centered on personal care and wellbeing, however, whereas conservatorship is primarily concerned with financial decision-making. 

Though admirable, navigating the judicial complexities of the guardianship process can be challenging and emotionally overwhelming. If you’re considering becoming the legal guardian of a minor or adult in New Mexico, it’s essential to have the right legal team on your side. 

From filing paperwork to appearing in court, our team of dedicated family law attorneys work tirelessly to ensure that vulnerable individuals get the care and support they need through guardianship. Contact our team at Sutherland Family Law today to learn more about how legal support can help you protect your loved ones.