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What Happens When A Parent Cannot Care For Their Child?

Occasionally, it becomes impossible for a parent to care for their child. In such a situation, it may be necessary for the parent to grant to another person the responsibility of caring for the child. In 2003, the Tennessee legislature enacted the Power of Attorney for Care of a Minor Child Act for situations where a parent is unable to carry out parental duties.

Some Hardships Make It Difficult To Be A Parent

The act allows a parent to give temporary care-giving authority to another person when a hardship prevents the parent from caring for the child. Although many situations can arise that prevent a parent from caring for their child, the law gives three specific situations where such a hardship might exist:

  • The serious illness or incarceration of a parent or legal guardian;

  • The physical or mental condition of the parent or legal guardian or the child is such that care and supervision of the child cannot be provided; or

  • The loss or uninhabitability of the child's home as the result of a natural disaster.

Although this list is not exhaustive, in order for the caregiver to enroll the child in a school within the zone of the caregiver’s address, one of the three hardships listed must be present. Otherwise, on a case-by-case basis the school can, but is not required, to enroll the child. In any event, the school may require evidence of the address of the caregiver and evidence or documentation of the claimed hardship before allowing the child to enroll.

There may be other situations where a hardship exists that requires a parent to cede care-giving authority to another person. For example, the loss of income by the parent may make it impossible for the parent to care for a child. Job duties may require a parent to be absent and unable to care for a child. Other examples might include military service, an extended overseas mission trip, or time needed to study for a professional exam such as the bar exam or CPA exam.

Which Parent Has Authority To Give Power Of Attorney

If both parents are living and have legal custody of the child, then the power of attorney must be signed by both parents. If only one parent has custody, then that parent can sign the power of attorney so long as the other parent gives permission in writing to the appointment. If the other parent does not give permission in writing, then the parent with custody must write out an explanation on the document as to why the consent of the other parent cannot be obtained. In such a situation, the parent having custody must then send a copy of the completed and signed power of attorney to the other parent by certified mail, return receipt requested.

How Much “Power” Does The Power Of Attorney Give?

The power of attorney for care of a minor child may authorize the caregiver to enroll the child in school and extracurricular activities, obtain medical, dental and mental health treatment for the child, and even provide for the child's food, lodging, housing, recreation and travel. In short, the power granted to the caregiver is not limited and can consist of any power a parent possesses.

Important Things To Know About The Power Of Attorney For Care Of A Minor Child

The following are things to keep in mind when contemplating the use of a power of attorney for care of a minor child:

  • Both the parent and the caregiver must be a resident of Tennessee

  • A parent can include a legal guardian or legal custodian of the minor child

  • The power of attorney does NOT provide for legal custody in the caregiver

  • A parent can revoke the power of attorney at any time by giving notice to the local school and any healthcare providers who have relied upon the power of attorney, that the power of attorney has been revoked

  • No person who relies upon the power of attorney to render medical care or enroll the child in school can be sued or charged with a crime for carrying out the wishes of the caregiver

  • If the parent, caregiver or both try to use the power of attorney to fraudulently enroll the child in a school to which the child is not zoned, both the parent and the caregiver can be sued by the local school board for the costs of educating the child and can be liable for the school board’s attorney fees as well

Consult A Tennessee Family Law Attorney First

A copy of the Tennessee statute “Power of Attorney for Care of a Minor Child Act” can be found here. Additionally, the actual form for Power of Attorney for Care of a Minor Child for can be found here. Although any parent can fill out the form on their own, it would be wise to consult an attorney for guidance before attempting such an important undertaking.


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