Can Woman Become Legal Guardian for Child She has Cared for Since Infancy?

“I have a child living in my home that is a non-relative.  She turned two on Jan. 21, 2012 and she has lived in my home since she was 6 months old. Her father is in prison and her mother is still doing drugs and caring for her 3 older brothers (ages 3 1/2, 8, & 15).  I don’t think the mother would agree to giving me custody because she gets welfare for the child.  She has been getting welfare and claiming the little girl on her taxes even though her daughter lives with me.  She does not give me any money, food or clothing whatsoever but will occasionally give me diapers.  She sees her daughter about once a week for about 2-3 hours unsupervised and does not keep the child overnight.  My questions is can I file for legal custody of this child?  I live in California.”

In this case, you should hire an attorney to guide you through the process.  The Courts do not remove rights from parents lightly, even given your concerns about the child’s parents and the extent of time you have cared for the child.  However, the Court may appoint you as guardian, or foster parent.  A less hostile, and more likely to have the outcome you want, option may be to ask the mother if she would be willing to make you the guardian, and give you power of attorney – ask the lawyer if there is a way to do this that would still allow the mother to claim the child on her welfare benefits *legally* or, at least, without your being party to any fraud she may be engaged in.