Giving Someone Temporary Legal Power to Make Decisions for Your Child

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Sometimes you may need to leave your child with a non-parent. If you are going on a trip or will be difficult to reach for any reason, it is important to give your child’s caregiver temporary legal power to make decisions for your child. To do this, you can prepare a Delegation of Parental Authority.

When Should I Consider Using a Delegation of Parental Authority?

As a parent, you have the legal power to do the following things for your child:

  • Decide where and when your child goes to the doctor

  • Consent to medical treatment for your child

  • Decide where your child will go to school

Anyone who is not your child’s parent cannot do these things unless there is a valid legal document or court order giving these powers to them.

When a parent leaves their child in someone else’s care, it is often a good idea to transfer their parental powers to the child’s caregiver on a short-term basis. This is especially important for decisions involving medical care. As a parent, you can use a legal document called a Delegation of Parental Authority (DPA) to give another person temporary power to make decisions for your child when you are away. You must have legal custody (sole or joint) to use a DPA.

If you leave your child with someone who is not their parent and do not sign a DPA, that person may be able to go to court to get guardianship over your child. This becomes more likely the longer you are away from your child. You are in control over the terms of a DPA, and you do not need to go to court to end or change it. Guardianships always involve going to court. Once a guardianship is in place, ending or changing it will mean going to court and getting a judge to agree. Creating a DPA allows you choose the person who will care for your child, and lowers the chance that someone can get a guardianship over your child without your permission. To learn more about the difference between DPAs and guardianship, read the “Should I Consider Guardianship for My Child?” section at the end of this article.

When you are away, a DPA gives your child’s caregiver the legal power to make decisions for your child that normally would be made only by you or your child’s other parent. The DPA only gives the caregiver this power while you are gone. In other words, even if there is a DPA, if you are present to make decisions for your child, the caregiver does not have the right to interfere.

A DPA is often used when parents go on a trip without their children or when a parent is deployed in the armed forces. You may also want to consider preparing a DPA when you are leaving your child in a non-parent’s care under any of these circumstances:

  • You know you will be hard to reach while you are gone

  • Your child’s caregiver is taking your child to the doctor or dentist in your absence

  • You want to give your child’s stepparent permission to take your child to the doctor

  • You are concerned that you may be detained by immigration authorities, and want to name someone to care for your child if that happens

  • You are entering drug treatment or going to jail for less than 180 days

The person you give a DPA to is called your agent. An agent is someone whom you give legal power to make decisions that only you could usually make. Your agent could be a relative, friend, or another adult you trust to take care of your child.

What Can a DPA Cover?

With a DPA, the parent decides what parental powers to give the agent. Below are some examples.

Power to Consent to Non-Emergency Medical Treatment

One of the most important powers you can give your agent in a DPA is the ability to consent to medical treatment for your child while you are gone. In a life-threatening medical emergency, a doctor may treat a child without a parent’s consent. However, a child’s parent must consent before a doctor can provide non-emergency medical care, dental care, or surgery for the child.

Giving your agent a valid DPA means that while you are away, your child can have non-emergency treatment without delay. If the agent does not have a DPA, doctors cannot provide care to your child without your consent unless your child’s life is in danger.

Power to Enroll in School and Other Activities

Through a DPA, you can also give your agent power to make decisions about your child’s education and child care. For example, a DPA can give the agent the power to enroll your child in day care or school, camp, tutoring, or other educational activities, and to sign permission slips for field trips. You can also give them the power to access, review, and correct school-related information about your child that would otherwise be protected under privacy laws.

Agent Cannot Consent to Child’s Marriage or Adoption

A DPA cannot give your agent the power to consent to a minor child’s marriage or adoption.

Time Limit

A DPA can stay in effect for up to 180 days. If needed, you can sign another DPA when 180 days have passed.

Parent in the U.S. Military

If you are serving in the United States armed forces and are deployed to a foreign country, the 180 day time limit does not apply. In this case, you can prepare a DPA that is effective until the thirty-first day after your deployment ends.

How Do I Get a DPA?

You can use the Do-It-Yourself Delegation of Parental Authority tool to prepare your DPA.

Once you have printed your form, sign it. Even though it is optional to sign the form in front of witnesses and a notary, many lawyers view this as the best way to complete a DPA. By getting the document witnessed and notarized, it is more likely that school administrators, hospitals, and others will recognize your DPA as a valid legal document. It also makes the DPA more likely to be accepted in states other than Michigan.

Notaries are often available at county offices, such as a county clerk, as well as banks, credit unions, law offices, and insurance companies. Some notaries will only sign documents as part of their employment. It is a good idea to call first to make sure the notary is able to notarize your form.

If you have joint legal custody with the other parent, both parents do not have to sign the DPA. You can sign a DPA alone even if you have joint legal custody. However, if only one parent signs, there will be some limits on the DPA. The DPA will only affect the rights to care and custody of the child of the parent who signed. If only one parent signs the DPA, the person you name to care for your child can only make day-to-day decisions about your child. The caregiver would not be able to make decisions that would impact major issues such as changing school, religious training, or non-routine medical decisions. The DPA only gives the caregiver power while you and the other parent are gone. Even if there is a DPA, if a parent is present to make decisions for your child, the person named in the DPA may not interfere.

Make a copy of the DPA for your own records, and then give the original to your agent.

How Do I End a DPA?

A non-military DPA will automatically expire in 180 days. A military DPA will expire on the date listed.

You can also end a DPA by telling your agent that you are ending it. However, it is a good idea to also end the DPA in writing. You can do this by writing a short letter to your agent saying that you are ending the DPA. Include the date that it will end.

If you are ending the DPA, notify your child’s school, doctor, and anyone else who needs to know that your agent no longer has power to make decisions for your child.

Should I Consider Guardianship for My Child?

In general, a DPA is the easiest way to give another adult short-term legal power to make important decisions for your child. If your child is in your agent’s care for more than 180 days, you can sign another DPA as soon as the 180 days has passed.

You do not have to go to court to give someone a DPA. However, you must go to court to establish a guardianship. By consenting to a guardianship, you also agree to suspend your parental rights during the term of the guardianship. This is an important difference between a guardianship and a DPA. Your parental rights are not suspended by giving someone a DPA. You keep the power to make decisions for your child even if you have created an agent through a DPA.

Also, a parent can end a DPA at any time without going to court, but only a judge can end a guardianship. In addition, a guardian may be able to ask a judge for custody or to end your parental rights permanently. If you are considering a guardianship for your child, go to Minor Guardianship (coming soon), or talk to a lawyer to make sure this is your best option. Use the Guide to Legal Help to look for a lawyer or legal services in your area.