What’s the Difference Between Guardianship and Custody?

The law of family matters is a complex one. When it comes to caring for a child, there are many legal definitions and it can be confusing. Many people are confused with the terms custody and guardianship and they sometimes intertwine their meanings. For the record, the two terms have different meanings. To know the difference between guardianship and custody, it will be explained in this article. 

When you say custody, it is described as the parent’s care of the child. It means that the child is under the custody or care of his biological parents. On the other hand, guardianship is granted to an individual who is not the child’s biological parents. This is possible when the parents are unfit or absent parents. So the guardianship is granted by the court to someone who will care for the child. However, in some cases, a child may be under the guardianship of an individual and at the same time under the custody of his parents to some degree. To help us fully understand the depth of these concepts in legal matters, here is a more defined explanation about each of the terms.

Legal Guardianship

Legal guardianship functions as a substitute or alternative to the custody of the parents when the parents cannot function as they should. It could be that they are absent or unfit for the moment. Legal guardians are usually granted to relatives such as a grandparent, uncle, and aunt. This is possible when parents died, incapacitated, or incarcerated for a crime. In some situations, parents who are severely handicapped can ask for a need for legal guardians to their children. 

In legal family terms, guardianship refers to the individual who assumes the legal responsibilities of caring for the child, wherein the individual is not the child’s biological parents. In some cases, temporary guardians are granted. There are also times when emergency guardians are granted. They are appointed for a specific period of time or for a specific purpose only.  

When involving child guardianship, the legal guardian must fill out the needed paperwork that shows that they are willing to be called the child’s guardian. These papers are then filed in the court for approval. There will then be a meeting arranged by the court where the individual and the child will attend so that the court can determine if the arrangement of legal guardianship is for the child’s best interest. The responsibilities of the legal guardian are not only limited to the child’s physical welfare but are also involved in all the major decisions for the child. It is important to note as well that the legal guardianship usually ends when the guardian dies or when the child reached the age of 18. 

Child Custody 

The other legal term is child custody. Custody is hereby granted to the biological parents of the child. Child custody has two types: physical custody and legal custody. When you say physical custody, it refers to the daily life and affairs of the child. It involves his medical care, living arrangements, and other necessary matters. On the other hand, legal custody refers to making major decisions for the child’s behalf. In some cases, a parent may have physical custody with his child so he is allowed to live with them for some period of time or he can spend time with them. But the parent doesn’t have legal custody for the child. It means that he cannot make any official decisions on behalf of the child. 

Guardianship and custody are very different. Because in guardianship, the guardian can make physical and legal decisions on behalf of the child. There are many ways that legal guardianship is like adoption. The only exception is that in guardianship, the biological parents of the child are still considered as the child’s parents. In adoption, it’s different. The biological parents already surrender their legal rights to the child. 

Understanding the Family Law

We hope that the explanation above regarding the difference between legal guardianship and child custody are clear to you. Differentiating between the two can be complicated because they can be the same essentially. Another difference is that family courts usually grant custody while probate courts grant guardianship. Custody is arranged oftentimes when the biological parents are pursuing a divorce decree and it is now being determined which parent will be granted the physical custody and legal custody. As explained, the court will now determine with the child’s interest in mind, which parent will the child live with and who will make the major decisions for the child. Legal guardianship, on the other hand, involves a more precise order. It is to legally place the child on the guardian’s care. 

The truth is, legal guardianship can become a complicated issue when custody arrangements are involved. If you are involved in any kind of custody dispute, it is very important that you understand legal guardianship and what it involves. If you also intend to assume the role of legal guardianship, it is vital that you understand these concepts.  

If you find yourself in the middle of a custody dispute, it is best to reach out to a qualified family law attorney. He will help you find legal entanglements in guardianship and give you legal representation when you need them. Parents and guardians might find it scary when faced with legal terms and arrangements, but when you have your legal adviser and you seek advice to many sources, you can find your way in reaching your goal. We hope that whatever the outcome may be, the child is in its proper care and the child’s best interest is the first deciding factor. And the parents or the guardian are able to perform to their responsibilities whether as a legal guardian or a custodian of the child.


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