Understand the distinctions between guardianship vs. custody in family law. Gain insights into their implications for children and families.
Family Law

Navigating Legal Waters: Guardianship vs. Custody Explained

The world of family law and parental rights is a tricky area that no mother or father ever wants to deal with in their life. However, it can be important to know about your options if you ever happen to find yourself in that kind of situation. 

For example, do you know the difference between guardianship and custody? While one grants parental rights, the other is meant more as a temporary legal relationship. Both grant legal rights but with different intended roles. 

Here’s what you should know about guardianship vs custody, and if either applies to your situation. 


Guardianship vs Custody

Legal guardianship refers to when a court grants a person to someone other than their biological parent. In many cases, it is a family member or friend that cares for this minor until further notice. 

In contrast, legal custody decides which parent a child will stay with and for how long. It can be a temporary agreement during a divorce proceeding or a more permanent one. 

Which one is appointed will depend on the best interest of the child and the options available to the court. 

Who Appoints Them

A legal guardian is appointed by the court to take care of a ward, such as a minor. This involves a court proceeding following a petition filed in the relevant court. 

Legal custody isn’t necessarily determined by a court. Both parents can determine it during a separation or divorce. However, a judge may need to decide if both parents want full custody or can’t come to an agreement. 

How Long They Last

How long each lasts will depend on the specific situation and if it is prone to any changes. 

Custody of a child can be either temporary or permanent. It stays in effect until the child reaches maturity or if the orders are modified for any reason. 

A person can become a guardian for a child until they reach maturity. However, they may also obtain legal guardianship over an adult who is deemed incapacitated due to either physical or mental disability. 

Legal Differences

There are a few key legal differences between custody and guardianship. 

First, guardianship can apply to both minors and adults, while you can only have legal custody over a minor. Second, legal custody is primarily used concerning parents separating or divorcing. They need to find out who gets physical custody, visitation, and other details.  

Guardianship applies to a wider range of personal and financial decisions, but they may involve more ongoing oversight. 

If you find yourself in either position, you should stay in touch with your family lawyer. They can help guide you through any changes involving your ward and your responsibility to them.

What is family law? Click the link to learn more. 

Approaching Family Law

Knowing the difference between legal guardianship vs custody can make a huge difference if you’re entering a family law matter. While they both let you make legal decisions regarding a minor, only the latter gives you parental rights. 

Take a look at some of our other articles if you’re interested in learning more about other law topics, including business, family, and personal injury.

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