What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

The legal relationship between an adult and child isn’t always as simple as “parent” and “son” of "daughter," especially if other adults are caring for the child in question. An adult may have custody over a child, or they may be appointed the child’s guardian, especially in cases where the child’s parent is unable or unwilling to provide adequate care. Even though guardians and custodians have similar authority over their charge, there are a few key differences between the two.

Whether you are fighting for custody of your child or hoping to become a child’s guardian, it’s important to understand the differences between custody and guardianship in Missouri.

Child Custody in Missouri

In most cases, custody is awarded to the parent or parents of a child, unless those parents are unable or unfit. A custodial parent is obligated to care for the child, looking out for his or her best interest in all things. Even though parents do receive preference over others who may want child custody, other adults, usually relatives, may also obtain custody if the parents are deemed unfit. Custody can also be divided or shared, called “joint custody,” between two individuals. Most joint custody arrangements occur between the child’s two parents, but custody might also be shared between a parent and grandparent, and so on.

About Guardianship

Parents will automatically become guardians for their children unless the parent or the court decides otherwise. A child may have a guardian appointed to them if their parents are no longer living or if the parents are unable to care for them. In some cases, a guardian may be appointed even though custody has already been established. For example, a guardian may be temporarily appointed to care for the child while the custodial parent is unable.

A guardian is expected to act in the best interest of the child and is responsible for providing the child, referred to as their ward, with care, safety, treatment, and welfare. The guardian is usually a relative of their ward, though they can be unrelated if other relatives have not stepped forward. According to Missouri law, the parent may recognize a guardian for their child, or the court may appoint whoever they see fit.

If you are interested in gaining custody of a child or becoming a child’s legal guardian, make sure you know what you need to do. Our St. Charles family lawyers can help assess your situation and find out what legal steps need to be made in order to secure your place as your child’s guardian or custodian.

Contact Smith Law Offices, LLCto discuss your child custody case with our St. Charles family law attorneys.

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