Child Custody vs. Guardianship

AdoptionThe terms custody and guardianship are sometimes mistaken for each other. It’s important to understand the differences between these two legal terms in Arizona.

Child custody is determined in family court. Custody is an issue in a divorce, custody case, or abuse or neglect hearing. Custody of a child is generally given to a parent, close relative (such as a grandparent) or to the state.  Custody cases are brought by a parent, the state or someone who is in a parental role in the child’s life and are often high conflict matters resulting in a trial. The court makes all determinations about custody. Parents are generally granted physical custody, legal custody, or both. If a parent has physical custody (rights to spend time with the child), but not legal custody, he or she does not have the authority to make any important decisions about the child. Child custody is often modified as the child grows and as circumstances change.

Guardianship is often created when a child’s parent is unable to care for him or her (such as when a parent is out of the country or seriously ill for an extended time) and the child must live with someone else. Guardianships are also common in situations where a child lives away from his parents for the purpose of education or specific training (such as for sports). A guardian is given the legal authority to make decisions for the child about health, education, financial and daily life matters but is not considered to be a parent. Guardianship cases are generally submitted to Superior Court with the parents’ consent. If they are contested they are usually moved to a family court. Guardians must have ongoing contact with the court to provide a report about the child. Guardianship is generally not modified, but it can be reversed when a parent is again able to care for the child.

Call the Sampair Group with your questions about child custody. We are located in Maricopa County, Arizona and are ready to work with you. Make an appointment today.