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California Child Caregiver’s Authorization (CA Family Code section 6550)

Most people are probably familiar with child custody in the context of a divorce. For example, one parent has the child (or children) these days and these times while the other parent has them these other days and other times. In California, child custody can also be described via another option, namely the Caregiver’s Authorization under section 6550 of the California Family Code.

What a Caregiver’s Authorization allows another adult — called the “Caregiver” — to assume certain  authority over a minor child without court involvement. This authority, however, is limited to that related to the child’s schooling and medical care. All that’s required is that the Caregiver sign a declaration stating, among other things, that the minor child is now living with them for whatever reason. The amount of authority the Caregiver gets is dependent on factors such as their relationship to the minor child and the contents of the declaration signed. A sample declaration is provided in section 6552 of the California Family Code.

For instance, if you’re the Caregiver and you only fill in sections 1 through 4 on the sample declaration provided in section 6552, section 6550(a) only allows you to “enroll a minor in school and consent to school-related medical care on behalf of the minor.” If you’re interested — as I was when I saw the term — “school-related medical care” is defined in section 6550(h)(3) to be “medical care that is required by state or local governmental authority as a condition for school enrollment, including immunizations, physical examinations, and medical examinations conducted in schools for pupils.”

On the other hand, if you’re the Caregiver and you complete sections 1 through 8 of the sample declaration in section 6552 **AND** you’re a relative of the minor child, then you have the same authority to authorize medical and dental care as a guardian would under section 2353 of the California Probate Code. As used here, the term “relative” here has a specific definition also and that’s under section 6550(h)(2) to be “spouse, parent, stepparent, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, first cousin, or any person denoted by the prefix “grand” or “great,” or the spouse of any of the persons specified in this definition, even after the marriage has been terminated by death or dissolution.”

The pertinent parts of section 2353 of the California Probate code appear to me to be sections 2353(a) and (b). Combined, they say that the guardian — or Caregiver who is also a relative who completed sections 1 through 8 — has the same legal authority as the minor’s parent to consent to medical treatment for the child and also to require the child get medical treatment. If the child is over age 14, however, then either a court order must be obtained or the guardian and the child must both consent to the treatment. I’m only paraphrasing section 2353 of the California Probate Code here. If section 2353 applies to your situation for some reason, I encourage you to look at the actual text of the section.

If you’re contemplating getting a Caregiver Authorization for whatever reason, you should know that it does not amount to legal custody of the child. Section 6550(b) of the California Family Code says that the child’s parent or other person having legal custody of the child can supersede the authority claimed under a Caregiver Authorization as it pertains to medical and dental care. The Caregiver’s Authorization also ceases to be effective when the minor child no longer lives with the Caregiver, although it is the Caregiver’s obligation to give notice to all interested parties that the minor child has moved.

Lastly, if you’re someone who works at a school, hospital, etc and you’re presented with a Caregiver’s Authorization, you are entitled to rely on it provided you are not actually aware what the wishes are of someone with actual authority (e.g. the child’s parent) over the child. No further investigation is required on your part.

All of this said, my experience in California is that Caregiver’s Authorizations are extremely rare. They exist as a means for someone to claim the authority to perform school and medical-related activities for a child in an emergency situation. The fact that they are only able to authorize action in such limited circumstances tell me that Caregiver’s Authorizations are not the equivalent of nor a substitute for something more long-term, such as an award of legal custody. Additionally, the fact that the Caregiver’s Authorization is self-authorized (i.e. the declaration is signed by the Caregiver and not by someone with legal custody over the child, like their parents) tells me that the Caregiver’s Authorization is meant as an emergency measure to prevent a child from going without medical care — and thereby risking injury — or missing school, simply because the child’s legal guardian is unavailable.

If you’ve had a situation in California where a Caregiver’s Authorization was used or turned out to be extremely useful, leave me a comment down below. The fact that California’s statutes even provide for Caregiver’s Authorizations at all mean that the need for them must arise at least sometimes.

As always, I hope this post has been helpful. This post was not meant as a comprehensive or exhaustive discussion of Caregiver’s Authorizations. I highly recommend that you read over the authorities I’ve cited to above. It’s entirely possible they might have changed in the time between when I wrote this post and the time you’re reading it. If you do have a situation involving a Caregiver’s Authorization, I highly recommend you find a lawyer in your area with whom you can discuss the circumstances of your case.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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