Washington passed a law that took effect in 2021 that created a different court process for appointing someone to take care of a child who is not their own. The former process of non-parent custody has been replaced by minor guardianship (guardianship of a child under age 18). More information about the change is available from the Washington LawHelp website and the State Court website.
There are two main tracks in Minor Guardianship: a Minor Guardianship Case or an Emergency Minor Guardianship case. Many people may need to file both to obtain the relief they need. An Emergency Minor Guardianship case can be filed at the same time as a Minor Guardianship case, or it can be filed first and then followed by a Minor Guardianship case. The court may use an Emergency Minor Guardianship Order to place the children with a guardian while the Minor Guardianship case moves forward.
An instruction sheet with steps and forms for both Minor Guardianship and Emergency Minor Guardianship has been reviewed by the judges.
The State Court has a list of official court forms grouped by function.
Washington LawHelp has created self-help packets with instructions and forms to file and to respond to minor guardianship cases:
- File a “regular” Minor Guardianship Petition
- File an “emergency” Minor Guardianship Petition
- Respond to a regular or an emergency Minor Guardianship Petition
- If you are a parent in a minor guardianship case, you can ask for a lawyer
Guardianship involves the court appointing someone to make decisions for another person, because the other person is not capable of managing their own affairs. There are alternatives to guardianship that should be considered before asking the court to appoint a guardian.
The State Court website has a Guardianship Portal with information about the guardianship process and programs as well as a search tool for finding a guardian. The website also has a training video for guardians. The written transcript of the video can be downloaded.
Forms (and some instructions) for guardianship proceedings are available at several websites:
- The Clark County Superior Court Clerk has general instructions for establishing a guardianship as well as some forms
- The State Court website has many forms arranged according to what you are trying to do
- Both Spokane County Superior Court or the King County Superior Court websites have instructions and forms for guardianship proceedings
A booklet called Family and Volunteer Guardian's Handbook answers some questions about the process. The law library has in-depth materials to read about guardianship if you need additional information.
A former Clark County guardianship coordinator wrote some specialized forms for Clark County that apply to specific circumstances. They may be needed after a case is filed. They are available for copying in the law library. Use the links above for forms that can be used to start the court process.
The Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program has a program to assist you with a guardianship if you meet the income qualifications. They can be reached at 360.695.5313.
Guardians ad Litem
Guardians ad litem (GAL) are people appointed by the court to investigate a situation and make recommendations to the court. They are used in a variety of cases such as guardianship and family law. Their role is to represent the best interests of the person who is dependent or incapacitated. They will look into the situation and people involved to recommend to the court what outcome is best for the child or incapacitated adult. There may be a fee for their services depending on financial circumstances.
A similar function is served in Clark County by Family Court Services. This office provides child custody evaluations in family court situations at the request of the court. There is a fee for this service depending on financial circumstances.