Defining Differences Between Guardianship & Child Custody

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When divorcing, who gets child custody and how much child custody time will they receive?  Who will be responsible for making the major decisions that affect the child’s life as they grow up?  What arrangements will be made for intact or broken families in the event of an untimely death of both parents?  These are questions that all parents will face at one time or another in their lives.  Depending upon the circumstances,  parents will be assigned (or agree to) a particular child custody schedule.  Or, they may choose to designate a guardian in circumstances where neither are able to parent.

What is the difference between child custody and guardianship?

Parents who are no longer together will typically have a joint child custody arrangement over their minor children.  It may be equal custody (shared parenting) or it may be an unbalanced child custody schedule with one parenting being the primary custodian and the other a non-custodial parent.  These arrangements can have a myriad of conditions associated with both physical and legal custody.  In only the fewest exceptions, a parent is always the guardian of the children and that means both of them.  Should both parents be deemed unfit, someone else will become the guardian for the child(ren).  Examples would include another family member or foster family.

If both parents are found unfit to care for the child, as in the case where there is domestic violence and abuse, the court can appoint a relative, like a grandparent, a foster parent, an orphanage, or other institutions.

Guardianship is the legal arrangement that is defined when the parents of a child(ren) are deceased or are otherwise no longer able to care for them.  In those cases, they will have designated or a guardian shall be designated for the parents. In the absence of the parents, a family member, a friend, or local official can petition the court for the appointment of a legal guardian for the minor children.

Guardianship may be designated until the minor children reach the age of 18 or for temporary periods.  Some examples include a long hospital stay for a serious medical condition or a long period of travel/time away from the family.  The temporary guardianship will have terms by which the legal guardianship arrangement terminates.

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