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MS Judges Question Child Guardianship Statute Designed to Cut Costs
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MS Access to Justice Commission Meeting
Desare Frazier

The Mississippi Access to Justice Commission is hearing from judges about a 2013 state law called the Special General Guardianship Statute. It allows a blood relative or one by marriage to obtain custody of a child without a lawyer present in court. David Calder runs the Child Advocacy Clinic, at the University of Mississippi.

"If they're appointed by the court to be the Special General Guardian, then they don't have any obligation to file annual reports or annual accountings with the court about the child," said Calder.

Calder says, some judges believe an attorney should be involved to protect the best interest of the child. There are some 30,000 grandparents raising grandchildren in Mississippi. Jennifer Riley-Collins with the American Civil Liberties Union says the law was created to help grandparents who can't afford attorneys.

"Each year hundreds of grandparents are calling lawyers, legal services and saying 'hey I need a guardianship because the school requires me to be the guardian of my grandchildren, who I am now in possession of,' " said Riley-Collins.

Judge Margaret Alfonso works in Harrison County's Youth Court and supports the law. She says the parents may be in prison, deceased or unable to care for their children. Her staff is working with the Department of Human Services to identify eligible guardians for children who are in the system. Alfonso explains the statue applies to children with $250 or less in cash and or $1,000 or less in property. 

"A child that becomes entitled to monies from a car accident or something like that still requires an attorney. This is for the child that has nothing. But is still in need of a guardian," said Alfonso.

Jennifer-Riley Collins says, the McKinley Act, which requires that schools register children who are homeless, could be used to resolve the issue.