What to Know About Legal Guardianship vs. Custody

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What to Know About Legal Guardianship vs. Custody

Posted By Mark Glendon     March 8, 2022    


The terms guardianship and custody are both legal terms used to describe the relationship between an adult and a child. Although both of these statuses are ultimately determined via a court process, they are not the same. Here’s how they differ and what you need to know about each.

What is legal guardianship?

Legal guardianship of a minor is when a court grants someone other than the biological parent the right to care for a minor. In terms of care, the person is charged with ensuring the physical and emotional well-being of the child. Examples include making financial decisions for them, making purchases for their basic needs, and providing proper medical care and treatment. Visit this website if you need guardianship of a minor.

Legal guardianship of a minor is usually granted when a biological parent is absent or deemed unfit to care for a minor. Although guardianship does not always mean a parent’s custody is revoked, in extreme cases, a judge may revoke or suspend a mother or father’s parental rights.

Guardianship is usually temporary, but in some cases, it may last until the minor is 18 years old, such as if the minor joins the military, gets married, or the guardian is no longer able to fulfill their guardianship role. A guardian may also be appointed to an adult if they are unable to care for themselves due to a disability or incapacitation. In these cases, the guardian is called a “ward.”

Whether a guardian is appointed to a child or an adult, the person who is legally determined to be a guardian must meet certain requirements, including being a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, not having any felonies on their record, and being of sound mind.

What is custody?

If there is ever a dispute about where a child should live, a court would grant something known as legal custody. Custody agreements can not only determine where a child lives, but also how long they stay there, parental financial obligations, and shared living arrangements. For example, if you have legal custody of a child, you are allowed to make all decisions about the child’s welfare, such as their medical care, housing, and other basic needs.

There are two types of custody: physical and legal.

  • Physical custody means an adult has physical control of a minor during a set period of time, such as a divorced parent having visitation rights.
  • Legal custody means an adult has total authority regarding all decisions regarding a minor.

Determining the legal custody or guardianship of a minor or incapacitated adults  is often a complex issue. A special needs attorney can help families sort through custody and guardianship issues to achieve the best end result and desired situation.

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