A recent case in Florida has caught the attention of a number of family lawyers and demonstrates both the complexity and the emotional stress inherent in what we do.
A special needs adult woman in Florida with Down syndrome does not want to be under the guardianship of her mother and stepfather, but rather to remain in the home she shares with a friend and the friend's fiancee. Although both the parents of the woman (who do not live together) and the mother's new husband, the woman's stepfather, previously indicated that neither parental household was available to the woman, the mother and stepfather later filed for guardianship over the woman.
The woman in question, Jenny Hatch, has an IQ of around 52, and most certainly needs some kind of assistance. The friend and fiancee have indicated they are more than willing to serve that role in Jenny's life.
At issue isn't just where Jenny lives -- Jenny also worked with the couple she wants to live with again at their thrift shop.
The case is a vivid example of the many complicated issues involved when a special needs child grows up. (Jenny is 29.) At stake is Jenny's ability to choose the parameters of her life -- a right we all take for granted, for the most part, but which causes conflict and confusion when the adult in question is, like Jenny, in need of assistance to handle life's challenges.
Guardianships, like child custody, are determined by state law, and generally governed in Arkansas by Title 28, Chapter 65. There are two basic kinds of guardianship in Arkansas - guardianship of the person and guardianship of the estate (or the person's financial affairs) -- and degrees of each. The showing required to secure a guardianship varies according to the kind of guardianship sought.