Navigating the Complexities of Co-Guardianship Arrangements

Co-guardianships are complex arrangements that require careful management, especially when parents share responsibility for an incapacitated ward. Such arrangements involve a delicate balance of rights and responsibilities. However, disputes can arise, leading one parent to seek clarification and enforcement of the co-guardianship order, while the other parent proposes specific possession schedules.

The In re Guardianship of Albers, No. 05-21-00921-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas [5th Dist.] 2023) provides insights into co-guardianship proceedings and the clarification of court orders to ensure the best interests of the incapacitated ward.

Facts & Procedural History

The case involves a dispute between the divorced parents, who act as co-guardians, of an incapacitated ward. When the ward sustained an injury that left him completely incapacitated, both parents were appointed as co-guardians as it was deemed to be in the ward’s best interest. 

Issues eventually arose between the two co-guardians, which led to the ward’s mother filing for an emergency motion to enforce the original co-guardianship order, alleging the ward’s father was impeding her co-guardian duties. She also requested clarification of the order if necessary. On the other hand, the father responded by proposing a specific possession schedule at his residence where their son lived.

Guardianships and their Responsibilities

In Texas, a guardianship is a legal proceeding in which a court gives one person or entity (the guardian) the authority and duty to care for another (the ward). The guardian is appointed by the probate court and given powers over either the ward’s person, their estate/property, or both.

A guardianship over the person allows the guardian to make decisions about the ward’s living arrangements, medical care, and other aspects of daily life. A guardianship over the estate gives the guardian control over the ward’s financial matters, such as paying bills and managing assets.

The probate court oversees the guardianship and must approve the guardian’s actions, such as selling the ward’s property or using the ward’s money to pay for care. The guardian must file annual reports with the court accounting for their management of the ward’s person and/or estate.

Under Texas statutes, guardians have certain fundamental rights and duties, including:

  • Taking physical possession of the ward
  • Establishing the ward’s domicile
  • Providing care, supervision, and protection
  • Supplying basic necessities like food, clothing, and medical treatment

However, courts can impose reasonable limits if necessary to prevent conflicts between co-guardians.

Co-Guardianship Arrangements

There may be cases where instead of having one guardian, a ward may have two acting as co-guardians. This is usually the case when proceedings involve an incapacitated individual with divorced parents. 

Co-guardians share decision-making and caregiving responsibilities. However, co-guardianship inherently implies limitations on physical possession rights since the guardians do not reside together.

Seeking Clarification of Co-Guardianship Orders

If disputes arise between co-guardians, either party can request the probate court to clarify the original guardianship order regarding possession protocols, coordination of visitation, provision of supplies to the ward, and other logistics. Clarification enforces compliance with an insufficiently specific order.

When clarifying an order, probate courts balance several factors:

  • Upholding the ward’s best interests and preferences
  • Respecting each co-guardian’s statutory rights
  • Recognizing implicit limitations in shared guardianship
  • Preventing conflicting directives between co-guardians
  • Enforcing prior court rulings

The court can then construe the arrangement to facilitate orderly co-guardianship. This does not modify the guardianship itself, only provides needed specifics. The goal is facilitating cooperative guardianship.

In this case, the court entered a detailed order establishing possession schedules, coordination logistics, visitation terms at the father’s home, and supply delivery procedures without modifying the co-guardianship itself. The mother appealed, arguing the order violated her statutory co-guardian rights. 

However, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s authority to construe the original order to facilitate orderly co-guardianship and ward care. Furthermore, they stated that the current order did not violate the original court order, but acted as a clarification of it as it only specified the terms and did not violate the court order.

The Takeaway

Through narrowly tailored clarification orders, Texas probate courts provide practical guidance to feuding co-guardians while protecting incapacitated wards. Orders can specify possession schedules and coordination protocols without modifying guardianship itself. Courts balance factors like upholding ward’s interests and guardians’ rights, but limits imposed must be minimally restrictive.

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The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.

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