I remember my grandparents. Vaguely. Every summer my brothers and I would pile in
the station wagon with Mom and Dad and drive to Evanston, Wyoming, to visit Grandma
and Grandpa. I remember watching Grandma in her flower printed dress grab the ring
in the kitchen floor and pull up the trap door over the cellar. I remember the smell
of dirt and damp when she clomped down the wooden stairs in her big, black, thick-heeled
shoes. I don't remember much more, we only saw them once a year for about a week when
we were kids. After we grew into teenagers and then young adults, we did not see them
that much. Grandpa died first, then five years later Grandma followed him.
All my friends had grandparents that lived far away. Grandparents they saw once in
a while. I do not remember my grandparents having jobs; in fact, I did not know what
my grandfather did for a living until many years after his death. My grandmother did
not work outside the home. She raised eight children. I wonder what she would think
about me being a grandmother. She might not understand why my three year old granddaughter
lives in my house without her mom or her dad. In fact, my grandmother would probably
be shocked that my granddaughter does not even know who her father is and that her
mother is in jail.
I am a baby boomer, a single mother of three, a single grandmother of seven, and one
of the growing group of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. My daughter,
who spent most of this pregnancy (her second) in jail, delivered a beautiful baby
girl by caesarian section on May 22, 2002. I was in the delivery room with her and
was the first person to hold the baby. The father had not really ever been in the
picture, and he certainly was not at the hospital that day. He has his own family
somewhere else and is not interested in this baby.
Little Trinity is three now, and her mother is back in jail, the second time since
Trinity was born. The last time she was arrested, I went to court and applied for
legal guardianship. I needed to make sure Trinity was taken care of, and there was
no one to care for her but me.
Types of legal control and how to get through the courts
Legal guardianship, very similar to legal custody, was the route I chose to go after
looking at my options. With guardianship papers signed by the judge I was able to
add Trinity to my health insurance at work, enroll her in day care, and take her to
the doctor. I had to provide my papers at all three places in order to sign anything
that pertained to Trinity's care.
The first step in getting legal guardianship is to file for Emergency Guardianship.
This is a short hearing in family court that can be done anytime after discovering
a need to take over legal control of a minor. In order for the judge to grant Emergency
Guardianship, you have to show that there is an urgent need for the child to be removed
from his or her current situation. Go to the courthouse and ask for the paperwork
for Emergency Guardianship. There will be a fee, probably around $160. The paperwork
is not complicated, but in it you must state the reasons for the action. In my case
it was straightforward. The judge signed the papers the same day, granting a 90-day
Most insurance companies will not allow you to add a minor to your insurance who is
not your child, even with Emergency Guardianship papers. I had to wait the 90-day
period, and then appear before the judge again to ask for Permanent Guardianship before
I could add Trinity to my insurance.
The clerk also told me that when I returned for my hearing for Permanent Guardianship
the judge would want to see proof that I had tried to contact the father, and that
the mother had signed and notarized an affidavit granting me permission to take over
the guardianship of her daughter. Having my daughter sign the document was the easy
part. I did not know how I was going to find the father, but the clerk said that all
the law required was that I 'publish' a legal notice in the local newspaper. I contacted
the newspaper and started to tell them what I wanted. The person at the newspaper
knew immediately what I was doing and asked for a copy of the order showing the date
of the hearing. The notice had to appear for three consecutive issues of the paper
to meet the legal requirement for 'publication.' There was a charge of $84 to do this.
Ninety days later I appeared in court with my proof of publication, the signed and
notarized affidavit from my daughter, and a receipt for the payment of all the fees.
The judge asked me a few questions, asked if anyone in the courtroom had any objections,
and granted the Permanent Guardianship.
The main difference between guardianship and custody is that custody is more permanent.
Even though the guardianship is called permanent, it is not. I have to file guardianship
renewal papers every year for the guardianship to continue. I can do this through
the mail, however, and not go to court unless asked to appear again. I have all the
rights and responsibilities of legal custody, but I do have to renew every year. Legal
custody continues until one of the parents contests it or the custodian cancels the
Grandparent support groups
I did a Google search on the keywords Grandparents raising Grandchildren and had 127,000
hits returned to me. There is a wealth of information online for grandparents raising
grandchildren. There are books, articles, legal documents, and support groups. Look
in your local paper, check with the churches, investigate the senior citizen organizations.
In our neighborhood, the local community college held a meeting last year for grandparents
raising their grandchildren.
Although I make a good living, I was not counting on a day care bill of over $500
a month. This expense can strain the budget of anyone. The director of the day care
center told me about a source of financial help that I was unaware of: child only
grants. What this means is that the state, through the Department of Economic Security,
will pay all or part of my day care expense because I am not the parent of Trinity.
However I am her legal guardian, a requirement for applying for a child only grant.
I got the paperwork from the local DES (welfare) office, completed it, wrote CHILD-ONLY
grant on the top of it and submitted it. They count only the income of the child to
determine the amount of the grant available. My three year old Trinity does not have
much income, in fact, she has none! Types of income a child COULD have include food
stamps, social security, and cash from family assistance programs. In fact, there
are cash grants I could apply for using the Child-Only provision, but I do not need
cash assistance. With the day care grant I pay $1.00 a day to the day care center,
which really helps when I am planning my budget.
Some friends and even family members tell me they don't understand why I am doing
this. They say I don't have to, that there are programs that will take care of Trinity
if her parents cannot or will not. They sometimes resent the fact that I don't have
time for socializing anymore, or that any social activities I do take part in must
include Trinity. They may be right, but I know that I could not do anything else.
I don't want to say I don't have any other choice, because I do. However, I have made
the only choice I know how to make: to take care of Trinity for as long as I need
to. And when she wraps those little arms around my neck and whispers, "I love you,
Grandma-mom," it is all worth it. I think my Grandmother would agree.