Guardianship & Legal Custody

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All States: Guardianship & Legal Custody
Copyright 2002, Generations United. Reprinted with permission of Generations United
More of this Feature
Guardianship & Legal Custody
Open Adoption & De Facto Custodian
Standby & Permanent Guardianship
Subsidized Guardianship
Medical & Educational Consent

Related Resources
Becoming a Foster Parent
Glossary of Terms
In-Family Adoption
Legal Resources
Post-Adoption Contact Agreements

Elsewhere on the Web
Grandparent & Other Relatives Raising Children Fact Sheets
State Adoption Subsidies

The most significant distinction between guardianship and adoption is that guardianship does not sever the biological parents' rights and responsibilities and the caregiver does not become the parent in the eyes of the law. Guardianship of a child means that a caregiver is responsible for the care and custody of the child. This "guardianship" designation allows the caregiver to access services on behalf of the child that without such a designation might prove impossible. Unlike with adoption, a birth parent can go back to court and ask for the guardianship to be ended and the care and custody of the child returned to the parent.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is a similar status to guardianship, but is usually bestowed by a different court that has different procedures. Guardianship is usually granted by a probate court, whereas a family court grants legal custody. Also, the status of "guardian" may often facilitate access to more services and rights than "legal custodian." Consider, for example, how many times one reads or hears the phrase "parent or guardian" without any mention of "legal custodian." It is important to consider the differences among guardian or legal custodian in the state where the relative-headed family lives.

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