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Custody Guide For Child Caregivers: Rights and responsibilities of parents and caregivers

Information on the rights and responsibilities of parents and caregivers.

Table of Contents

What rights and responsibilities do parents have?

Parents have many important rights that allow them to make most decisions for their children. Parents decide where the family will live and where the children will attend school. They also decide what religion the children will practice and make decisions regarding education and medical treatment for their children. In addition to these rights, parenthood also comes with many responsibilities. Parents are legally responsible to support their children, educate them, and provide food, clothing, and shelter at least until the children reach the age of 18.

Can the parents make decisions if the child is not living with them?

If there is no court order, the parents may make decisions regarding their children even if they are not living with them.

How can a court order change the rights of parents?

A court order may limit a parent's rights. For example, a court order may:

  • Give sole legal custody to either parent
  • Appoint a non-parent as the legal guardian of the child
  • Give DCF legal custody of the child
  • Give temporary or permanent custody to a third party
  • Terminate parental rights and allow another person to become the child’s parent through adoption

What rights and responsibilities do caregivers have?

Caregivers do not have the same rights and responsibilities as the child's biological parents. A caregiver’s specific rights and responsibilities depend on what type of custody the caregiver has. Examples of the specific rights and responsibilities of each caregiver are discussed in detail below.

Do many children live with a caregiver?

Thousands of children in Massachusetts live with caregivers who are not their parents. Many are cared for by family members, or people close to the family, who are referred to as relative or kinship caregivers.

Why do some children need caregivers?

Children require caregivers when their parents are not available or able to care for them.

What types of caregivers are there?

This guide will refer to different types of caregivers and help you decide which one you are or want to become. It is important to note that rights and responsibilities, including financial support available to caregivers, differ depending on the type of caregiver that you are. The types of caregivers discussed in this guide are:

  • Informal caregiver with or without a caregiver affidavit
  • Legal guardian through Probate and Family Court
  • Adoptive parent through Probate and Family Court
  • Kinship foster parent through Juvenile Court
  • Temporary third party custodian through Juvenile Court
  • Permanent third party custodian through Juvenile Court
  • Legal guardian through Juvenile Court
  • Adoptive parent through Juvenile Court

Why is it important to decide which type of caregiver to be?

Your ability to make some important decisions for a child and access resources depends on the type of caretaker you are. You may need legal custody from a court in order to provide a safe, stable home for the child.

What are some challenges a caregiver may have?

Caring for a child is very rewarding but, at times, it can be challenging. You may be there for the baby’s first words, first day at school, or first football game. However, some caregivers may need to quit their jobs or take a leave of absence to care for a child. Others change retirement plans or take a new job to pay for additional expenses. Sometimes the family must move to a bigger home or purchase a larger car. Caregivers can be emotionally and physically exhausted by their caregiving responsibilities. Kinship caregivers may be able to access financial supports and services. For additional information, see the chart at the end of this booklet and information about referrals to support services.

What is an informal relative caregiver?

Informal relative caregivers care for the child based on an informal arrangement with the child’s parent(s). There is no court involvement. The child’s biological parent(s) still have legal custody of the child, but the caregiver provides for the child’s everyday basic needs. The informal caregiver will not be able to make medical and educational decisions without the parent’s permission.

Informal relative caregiver: Pamela has cared for her three grandchildren for the past five months. The children’s mother, Jane, now lives in another state with her boyfriend, but stays in touch with her mother. Pamela cannot legally make medical or educational decisions for the children. She needs to take the baby to the doctor and wants to enroll the oldest child in kindergarten but may not be able to do either.

What if the parent consents to my making medical and educational decisions for the child?

A caregiver may ask the parent to sign, and have notarized, a Caregiver Affidavit which will give the caregiver permission to make medical and educational decisions for the child. In the affidavit, the parent may exclude the caregiver from making specific decisions. Also, the Caregiver Affidavit does not give the caregiver legal custody of the child, nor does it suspend or terminate the legal custody of the parents.  A Caregiver Affidavit is valid for up to two years but may be extended in writing. The parent (or the caregiver) may revoke the authorization at any time. It is important to get needed documents from the parent, such as the child’s birth certificate and social security card, as well as medical and school records. 

Informal relative caregiver with Caregiver Affidavit: Jane agreed to sign and notarize a Caregiver Affidavit that gives Pamela and Jane the right to make medical and educational decisions for the three children. Jane can still take the children back at any time and revoke the Caregiver Affidavit.

Contact

Address

Supreme Judicial Court
One Pemberton Square
Boston, MA 02108
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