Family law focuses its sights on protecting children above all else. As a result, there are several different types of agreements available to those who care for children.

When a child’s living situation changes, their parents or other family members may seek agreements that include custody or legal guardianship.

But what’s the difference between the two? Keep reading to learn about the legal distinctions between legal guardianship or custody.

A Person With Custody Is a Biological Parent

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Custody is a term reserved for the relationship between a biological parent and their child or children.

Two types of custody fall under this umbrella: legal and physical.

A parent with legal custody of the child makes decisions on behalf of their child.

A parent with physical custody has the right to participate in the child’s daily life. Their child may live with them on a part-time or full-time basis. They can make decisions for the child on their behalf.

Receiving physical custody doesn’t guarantee legal custody. Parents with partial custody may not be legally allowed to make any important or legal decisions unless dictated by the court.

Custodial agreements are flexible. If the circumstances change dramatically, one parent can ask for a modification that reflects the child’s best interests.

However, only courts can make the final decision on custody agreements. Two parents committed to co-parenting can make recommendations, but it must all be upheld by a judge.

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Legal guardianship refers to a relationship in which a person other than the child’s biological parent takes on the legal right to care for the child. A guardian takes over when the parents either cannot or will not provide care in the child’s best interests.

There are both temporary guardianships and permanent legal guardianships.

In a temporary guardianship, the guardian may care for the child in an emergency situation. Both the period and purpose of the guardianship are outlined by the court.

If the decision becomes permanent, a legal guardian then cares for the child and make major legal decisions for the child.

A legal guardianship comes to an end on the child’s 18th birthday or if the guardian dies. However, a guardian may also care for an adult with a disability who cannot advocate for themselves.

Like custodial relationships, guardianships come from a judge. Judges won’t generally appoint a guardian if a parent has custody unless the custodial parent becomes incapacitated and can’t provide care. The parent can then reassert their rights and request custody if the situation changes. Guardians who wish to challenge the custody request require a guardianship lawyer.

Family Law Is Complicated

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Both custodial agreements and the appointment of a legal guardian happen in the courts according to state family law.

If a child’s care or custody is in question, then all parties involved need a lawyer to advocate for what you believe is the best way to care for them. Regardless of how you feel, it’s up to a judge to determine what is and isn’t in the child’s best interests.

Are you unsure of whether you need an attorney? Read our article on the benefits of hiring legal representation.

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