Guardianship Vs Custody: What is the Difference?

guardianship vs custody

There are a number of reasons why a family may require legal assistance with a guardianship or custody case relating their children. But some people are misinformed about the differences between guardianship vs custody and what it means for the child.

Don’t get lost in all the legal jargon. Keep reading for a brief introduction of the key factors surrounding guardianship vs custody.

Best Interests

The court will do their best to make a decision based on the best interests of the child in any case. They will evaluate wishes of the child and in some cases, the parents’ wishes.

A court will rule guardianship or custody over a child in cases of child neglect or domestic violence. The court will use any relevant evidence to determine what is best for the child.

Parties Involved

Only a court is allowed to grant custody of a child when a parent has become deceased or otherwise incapable of caring for the child. Parents can sometimes make recommendations for the child in this case, but the final decision is up to the court.

Parents can award guardianship in conjunction with the court when a parent will be away from the child for an extended period of time or cannot care for the child temporarily. A parent has the right to choose the person or family that will serve as guardian of their child in this situation.

Guardianship vs Custody

A legal parent or guardian is integral to the proper care of a child. The parent or guardian is the only person that can make medical decisions, enroll children in school and make other legal decisions on behalf of the child.

Guardianship is least invasive for a parent to release care of their child. Often this is done for temporary purposes.

Legal custody is irreversible and provides a custodian legal abilities and rights for the child in question.


There are a variety of guardianship rules and regulations and they can vary from state to state and in some cases municipalities.

An example of guardianship occurs in court proceedings in which a parent is incarcerated leaving their child without a caretaker. The court will appoint a guardian, such as a grandparent or close family friend, on a temporary basis.


There are two types of custody: legal and physical custody.

Legal custody offers the custodian the right to make childbearing decisions such as medical decisions.

Physical custody involves the right of the child to live with the custodian although a child may be granted the right to live with a custodian in the case of legal custody in some cases.

Finalizing Your Guardianship or Custody Decision

Deciding between guardianship and custody in any situation is a tough and trying time. Obtain legal help so that you have the best advice in your court case or final decision process.

Whether you’re facing a guardianship or custody decision in court or you’re trying to learn more about the laws surrounding these parental statuses, we’re here to help. Contact us for a consultation.

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