Written by Canterbury Law Group

The Differences between Guardianship and Custody


Guardianship and custody are legal arrangements concerning the care and well-being of a minor, but they have distinct differences:

Who they apply to:

  • Custody: Refers to the legal responsibility for raising a child, typically awarded to biological parents, though it can also be granted to stepparents or other relatives through legal processes.
  • Guardianship: Applies when someone other than a biological parent or legal custodian needs to make decisions about a child’s care and welfare. This can be due to various reasons, like the parents’ incapacity, incarceration, or death.

Scope of responsibility:

  • Custody: Grants decision-making authority in various areas, including education, healthcare, residence, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing. In some cases, it also covers financial support.
  • Guardianship: The scope of responsibility can vary depending on the specific case and court order. It may encompass daily care decisions (food, clothing, shelter), medical care, education, and some legal decision-making, but not necessarily all aspects of raising the child.


  • Custody: Typically intended as a long-term arrangement, aiming to provide stability and continuity for the child. However, custody orders can be modified if circumstances change significantly.
  • Guardianship: Can be temporary or permanent depending on the situation. For temporary guardianships, the goal might be to reunite the child with their biological parents once they regain capacity. Permanent guardianships may be necessary if long-term care is required.

Legal standing:

  • Custody: Legal custodians have legal authority to make decisions for the child and represent them in court.
  • Guardians: Have varying levels of legal authority depending on the specific court order. They may require the biological parents’ consent for certain decisions, especially if the parents retain some parental rights.

Here’s a table summarizing the key differences:

Feature Custody Guardianship
Applies to Biological parents, stepparents, relatives Non-biological parents
Scope of responsibility Broad (education, healthcare, residence, etc.) Varies depending on court order (daily care, some legal decisions)
Duration Long-term Temporary or permanent
Legal standing Full legal authority Varies depending on order


  • The specific details of custody and guardianship agreements can vary depending on the individual case and state laws.
  • Consulting with a lawyer experienced in family law is crucial for understanding your rights and responsibilities and navigating the legal process related to either custody or guardianship.


  1. Definition:
    • Guardianship is a legal relationship in which an individual (the guardian) is appointed by the court to make legal and personal decisions for another person, usually a minor (the ward) or an incapacitated adult.
  2. Court Involvement:
    • Guardianship is typically established through a court process. The court evaluates the need for a guardian, and if deemed necessary, it appoints a suitable person to act as the guardian.
  3. Decision-Making Authority:
    • The guardian has the authority to make legal, financial, and personal decisions on behalf of the ward. This can include decisions about education, medical care, and overall well-being.
  4. Termination:
    • Guardianship may continue until the ward reaches the age of majority (18 years old) or until the court determines that the guardianship is no longer necessary.
  5. Applicability:
    • Guardianship is often used when a child’s parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child or when an adult lacks the capacity to make decisions for themselves.


  1. Definition:
    • Custody refers to the legal right and responsibility of a parent to care for and make decisions on behalf of their child.
  2. Court Involvement:
    • Custody arrangements can be established by agreement between the parents, but they may also be determined by a court order in cases of divorce, separation, or when parents cannot reach an agreement.
  3. Decision-Making Authority:
    • Custodial parents have the authority to make day-to-day decisions for the child, including those related to education, healthcare, and general upbringing.
  4. Termination:
    • Custody typically continues until the child reaches the age of majority, and it may be subject to modification by the court if circumstances change.
  5. Applicability:
    • Custody is primarily associated with the relationship between a child and their biological or adoptive parents. It may involve sole custody, joint custody, or visitation rights.

Key Distinctions:

  1. Legal Relationship:
    • Guardianship involves a legal relationship established by the court, while custody is a legal right granted to parents.
  2. Decision-Making Scope:
    • Guardianship often grants broader decision-making authority, including financial and personal decisions, while custody focuses on the day-to-day care and upbringing of the child.
  3. Origins:
    • Guardianship can arise in situations where there is no biological or adoptive parent available or suitable to care for the child. Custody is typically associated with parental rights.

Speak With Our Guardianship Lawyers in Arizona

Contact Canterbury Law Group today if you need an experienced child custody lawyer or guardianship lawyer in Phoenix or Scottsdale, Arizona to help with your case. Our experienced family law attorneys will work with you to achieve the best outcome for your situation. Call today for an initial consultation! 480-744-7711

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *