Adopting a child is a beautiful choice, but it’s not always what’s needed. Sometimes a child’s parents are not able to care for their child, but still hope to reunite in the future. Sometimes a teen needs care but does not want a new family. In such cases, another adult can step up and care for the child without termination of the parents’ rights. It’s a question of guardianship vs. custody.

What is guardianship?

Guardianship of a child is a legal process where a court appoints someone (the guardian) to care for a minor (the ward) when the biological parents cannot fulfill that role. This can be due to various reasons, including

  • Incapacity: If a parent is deemed mentally or physically incapable of caring for their child due to illness, disability, or substance abuse.
  • Abandonment: When a parent intentionally leaves the child in the care of another person with no intention of returning for an extended period.
  • Endangerment: If a parent’s actions or lifestyle put the child’s safety and well-being at significant risk.
  • Death of parents: If both biological parents have passed away, a guardian can be appointed to ensure the child’s care.

The guardian assumes some or all of the parental responsibilities. The guardian can make important decisions regarding the child’s physical and emotional well-being, including choices of healthcare, education, and living arrangements. A guardian can provide a safe and stable home environment for the child and represent the child’s best interests in legal matters.

Types of guardianship

There are different types of guardianship, and the specific rights and responsibilities granted to the guardian will vary depending on the situation and the court order. Here are some general categories:

  • Sole Guardianship: One person is appointed guardian, assuming full parental responsibility.
  • Joint Guardianship: Two people, often spouses or relatives, are appointed guardians and share decision-making authority.
  • Limited Guardianship: The guardian has authority over specific aspects of the child’s life, such as education or medical care, while the parents retain other parental rights.

Guardianship is a serious matter, and the court will carefully consider all factors before granting it. This often involves a social worker’s investigation, a hearing to assess the circumstances, and a determination of what’s in the child’s best interests. In this way, guardianship is very similar to custody. However, a guardian does not legally stand in the position of a parent.

Being a ward

You might have heard the term “ward” before in a different context. Robin was Batman’s ward, after all, and it’s a common theme in historical romance novels. It sounds old-fashioned, but it is in fact a legal relationship. The guardian is responsible for the care and education of the ward, including training to prepare the ward for a job or profession.

If the ward owns property or other assets, the guardian may be responsible for that property. The ward’s funds must be used for the good of the ward (for example, paying for his or her education).

The guardianship continues until it is ended by the court. If the guardianship is based on the ward’s age, it will usually end when he or she is no longer a minor, though that can depend on the court.

Wards do not automatically inherit from their guardians, though they can be named in a will. The relationship is similar to custody, but the guardian is not a parent.

Adopting your ward

Sometimes circumstances change and guardians may choose to adopt their wards. Perhaps the guardianship began when the child’s parent hoped to be able to care for their children in the future, but in fact the parents lose contact with their children. Perhaps a teenager did not want to be adopted but later changed his or her mind. There are many reasons that a guardianship might end up being a step along the journey to adoption.

The legal process for adoption is the same for guardians as other types of adoptions. Contact an adoption attorney like Justin Heimer to make the transition smooth.  We can also assist with guardianship cases. Contact us for a free consultation.

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