Adoption and guardianship are two forms of legal custody that are very similar. Greenlight Family Services assists individuals in understanding the best choice for their family situation. Both give the caregiver the legal authority to make decisions on the child’s living arrangements, medical care, and education.
At Greenlight, some of the key differences between adoption and guardianship for minors are explained:
Parental rights: Adoption terminates the biological or legal parents’ rights, while legal guardianship keeps the parents’ legal rights intact. This means that in an adoption, the adoptive parents are awarded all legal parental rights, and birth parents cannot reclaim rights to the child once the adoption is finalized. This differs from legal guardianship, where the parents have the option to file in court for the guardianship to be terminated and the child to be returned to the parents.
Birth certificate: No changes are made to the child’s birth certificate if their caregiver obtains custody through guardianship. However, if custody is established through adoption, a new birth certificate is issued with the name(s) of the adoptive parent(s) replacing the names of the birth/legal parents.
Child support: Because adoption ends with the termination of the parental rights of the birth/legal parents, it also ends any kind of monetary obligation. If custody is established with guardianship, it is within the rights of the legal guardian to file for child support in court.
Inheritance: Adoption secures inheritance rights for a child, while legal guardians must make special provisions in their will if they wish to pass along inheritance.
Permanence: Adoption is permanent. It establishes custody when the child is a minor, and the legal connection continues when the child is an adult. The grown child has all the privileges of a biological child- they can make medical decisions for their adoptive parent if the parent is ever hospitalized, and they naturally inherit when the parent passes away. Guardianship is temporary. It can be terminated if the guardian and/or the birth parents want it to be. If it is not terminated, then it can last until the minor turns 18, at which point the guardianship is dissolved as the child becomes a legal adult.