Understanding the differences of legal guardianship vs custody for children that you care for

When it comes to caring for the children in your life that you love and cherish, it’s a given to want the best for them. Whether they are biological children, adopted, or just those you care for and are close to, making sure you can legally care for them can be an important element to help provide stability for them. You may have multiple legal options but there is often some confusion about the difference between guardianship vs custody. In this article, we provide a brief overview of what the difference is and how it may relate to you.

If you believe you need either a guardianship or custody lawyer, contact our team of experienced family law attorneys at Murphy & Rudolf, LLP. Call 508-762-1397 today for a free consultation

At a glance: the difference between guardianship vs custody

In its most basic principle, the main difference between guardianship and custody is that while the former can refer to any adult caring for a child, custody generally relates to the legality between parents and their own children.

When is guardianship an appropriate arrangement?

When looking at guardianship vs custody options, because they relate to rather different situations, it is not quite a fair assessment to place them as alternative options. So what does it mean to have guardianship over a child?

Guardianship can be a solution for childcare when a parent is not mentally or physically able to care for their own child and another person is found to care for them. As a guardian, you have the responsibility to care for the child until they turn 18.

Guardianships are not permanent and do not terminate the rights of the parents. Additionally, if you are a guardian, in most cases the parent is still financially responsible for their child. 

What about custody?

In Massachusetts, guardianship or custody is based on the best interests of the child. But specifically, when it comes to custody, the judge in family court will evaluate parental custody based on: 

  • Which of the parents is more likely to take care of the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs of the child;
  • Which of the parents is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child; and
  • Which of the parents is more likely to encourage and allow frequent contact between the child and the other parent.

There are two general types of custody that can be further broken down.

Legal Custody:

  • Sole legal custody: decisions regarding the child’s welfare are left to one parent.
  • Shared legal custody: both parents are involved and responsible for the decisions regarding the child(ren).

Physical Custody:

  • Sole physical custody: the child lives with one parent who is responsible for their supervision. The other parent may have visitation rights unless the court decides otherwise. 
  • Shared physical custody: a child has periods of residing with and being under the supervision of both parents.

What is your best course of action?

If you are unsure about your specific situation when it comes to guardianship vs custody for a minor in your life, we recommend that you speak to a family law attorney. Contact our Worcester-based team of attorneys to help assess your best course of action. We can provide the thorough and compassionate legal support you need: 508-762-1397.

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