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Legal Guardianship vs. Custody: Understanding the Differences


Legal guardianship and custody are two completely different terms, but the biological ground is considered to be the primary one. While guardianship refers to the legal duty for a kid when it is entrusted to a non-parent, child custody refers to a parent who is granted legal and/or physical custody of their own child.

While guardianship exclusively relates to legal decision-making, even though a guardian may or may not also have custody, custody can refer to either legal decision-making authority, physical custody, or both. It is not always the case that an adult who is granted guardianship of a child also necessarily has physical custody of the child.

Through this article, you will get an idea about Legal processes for guardianship and custody, and you will also get complete insight into their differences and functionalities. At the end of this blog, we will introduce you to our top guardianship attorneys at Lindsay and Lindsay Attorneys At Law, who can guide you through the entire legal procedure.

Types of Legal Guardianship

This section of the article aims to provide a brief knowledge of the types of legal guardianship. For guidance related to further legal procedures, you can contact our guardianship attorney. We serve Hansville, Belfair, Bainbridge Island, Kingston, Olalla, Poulsbo, Port Gamble, WA, and nearby areas.

Guardian of a Minor: The guardian has parental-like authority over the minor regarding care and supervision.

Limited Guardian of Minor: The minor is under the guardian’s care and supervision. But unlike a standard guardianship, this one has an additional restriction: the guardian cannot approve the minor’s marriage, adoption, or release for adoption.

Complete Guardian of a Person Who Is Legally Incapable: This guardian exercises the same authority and care over the legally incapacitated adult as a parent would. A guardian of an adult who has fewer legal rights and powers than a complete guardian is known as a limited guardian of a legally incapacitated individual.

Guardian Ad Litem: This isn’t your typical guardian. When a party cannot appropriately represent themselves in a court action, a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent that party’s interests. Depending on what they think is best for the party they represent, the guardian ad litem may suggest something to the court for the custody court decisions. They are not the same as a guardian and do not have the power to decide on behalf of the party they represent.

Types of Custody

1. Rightful Custody

A parent with legal custody of a kid is entitled to make important decisions on the child’s upbringing. These choices may concern the child’s religious education, the kind of school he attends, and his dental and medical needs. One parent may be granted exclusive custody, or both parents may share custody, in which case each will have equal influence over all areas of the child’s development.

2. Maternal Custody

A parent with physical custody of their child can reside with them. Usually, one parent is given physical custody while the other is allowed visitation privileges in case of separation. Nonetheless, some parents might choose to share physical custody on the basis of court decision. To be in a safer space, you can get help from expert guardianship attorneys at Lindsay and Lindsay Attorneys at Law. We provide service in Shelton, Silverdale, Suquamish, WA, and nearby areas. You can reach out to us directly by phone or book an appointment.

3. Combined custody

A type of child custody where each parent is given joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both. When granted shared legal custody, parents must reach a consensus on the child’s upbringing choices.

If both parents are granted joint physical custody, the child will live with them equally. These two situations arise when parents are granted joint legal and physical custody. In such a scenario, there is a need to balance the roles of guardianship and custody.

Key Differences: Legal Guardianship vs. Custody

Guardianship and custody are two key phrases frequently used in legal disputes affecting the care and well-being of children. Making decisions regarding the future of your family requires an understanding of the distinctions between guardianship and custody. Let’s examine the main differences and factors to think about for each and what one can do while balancing roles in guardianship and custody.

A legal arrangement known as guardianship designates an adult who is appointed to be the guardian and who is legally responsible for the upbringing, care, and safety of a minor child. When a child’s biological parents are unable to raise them or are unsuited to do so, guardianship is usually awarded. A number of things, like the parents’ passing or infirmity, could cause this.

Among the most important things to comprehend about legal process of guardianship are:

Legal Authority: The court has given numerous responsibilities to legal guardians, including the legal right to decide on the education, medical treatment, and general well-being of their children. They take complete responsibility for the child’s upbringing, thereby stepping into the role of the child’s parents.

Temporary or Permanent: Depending on the situation, guardianship may be either temporary or permanent. When a child’s parents are momentarily unable to care for them due to a sickness or a military deployment, for example, temporary guardianship may be formed. When it is not in the child’s best interest to return to the care of their original parents, permanent guardianship is usually sought.

The main goal of custody is establishing living arrangements and decision-making authority for the child. The child’s custody decides who the child lives with and how important decisions about their upbringing are made.

Legal and Physical Custody: There are two categories of custody: legal and physical. The power to make crucial choices about a child’s upbringing, education, medical treatment, and religion is referred to as legal custody.

Joint or Sole Custody: There are two types of custody awards: joint and sole. When two parents share joint custody, they have joint legal and/or physical custody of the kid and are required to collaborate in making decisions that are best for the child.

When and Why Legal Guardianship Is Preferred?

While it is never the ideal situation to take minor children away from their biological parents, guardianships can be the only viable means of providing the care and attention that the child needs if the parents are physically unable to care for the child or are unfit to raise one.

Let’s say that a child’s parents are abusing drugs, which is making them overlook not just the child’s basic requirements but also their responsibility to provide a secure home for the child.

When a parent’s work demands them to spend much time overseas, they don’t want to move their child during the school year.

Alternatively, a family member may choose to care for a child until they are 18 because the child’s parents perished in an automobile accident.

Or maybe a child requires a financially astute adult to manage a sizeable inheritance until the child reaches adulthood and is ready to access the money independently.

In each of these situations, it would be proper for an adult to apply for guardianship because the kid’s parents cannot provide for the child or their belongings on a long-term or temporary basis.

For better decision-making, you can always get help from an experienced guardianship attorney in Port Gamble, WA, at Lindsay & Lindsay Attorneys At Law. Call right away to set up an appointment.

When custody is needed?

There are situations in which it makes more sense for one parent to have custody of the child than the other. These include cases of abuse or neglect, marital violence, and/or incapacity of one parent to meet the requirements of the other.

When submitting a child custody request, you ought to seek legal counsel. However, to apply for it, you must meet certain predetermined requirements:

  • It is filed in the event of a judicial separation, either during or after the divorce process.
  • For the child to be eligible for custody, they must be younger than 18 years old.
  • Legal custody rights ought to exist in the district.


At Lindsay & Lindsay Attorneys At Law, our clients rely on us for reliable legal advice because we are a seasoned law practice with twenty years of expertise in family law. Divorce, guardianship, estate planning, probate, adoption, and paternity are among the subjects we practice at Lindsay and Lindsay.

We provide the individualized attention you need, regardless of whether your situation calls for the services of a general family lawyer, divorce lawyer, estate planning lawyer, or guardianship attorney in Poulsbo, Bremerton, Suquamish, Shelton, Gig Harbor, and Silverdale, WA. Our main goal is to put a lot of effort into ensuring each client is fairly represented. Call us at 360 876-7601 to book your appointment with us. Our team will be there to help you out in each step.

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