The legal world is full of jargon that can seem overwhelming. Words like “child custody” and “guardianship” are often used interchangeably, even though they are different concepts under Michigan law.
If you have children or care for children, understanding the basics of these important terms can help you better communicate with your lawyer and the courts about your needs.
Differences Between Custody and Guardianship
A child’s biological parents are generally the ones with custody over that child. Conversely, a guardian is appointed by the court and is not a biological parent. Parents with custody can make all decisions concerning the care of their children, while a guardian’s authority may be more restricted.
Parents are presumed to have custody of their children from the moment they are born, while guardians have no authority until a court gives it to them. Similarly, a parent has custody over their minor children until they either relinquish custody or a court terminates it. A guardianship, by contrast, lasts only as long as the court dictates.
Child Custody in Michigan
Custody in Michigan refers to both legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody refers to the right to have the child in your presence and have physical control over the child. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions that affect the child’s upbringing, health, and education.
A parent’s custody rights continue until terminated by the court. Even when parents divorce, these rights may continue with a joint custody arrangement.
In some cases, only one parent may have sole custody. Courts decide whether a parent can continue to have custody by examining what is in the child’s best interests and whether the parent can meet those interests.
Guardianship in Michigan
Guardianship is legal authority over a child granted to an adult who is not the child’s biological parent. Guardianships are typically granted when a child’s parents are not able to care for the child. This could be a temporary arrangement, such as if a parent is recovering from a serious injury, or it could be permanent, such as if a child is an orphan.
Guardians only have as much authority over a child as the court grants them. Generally, a guardian is entrusted with the day-to-day care of the child but must get the court’s approval for major decisions that impact the child. They may or may not have physical custody of the child while acting as guardian for the child as well.
Other Considerations When Determining Child Custody vs. Guardianship
There are other differences between parental custody and guardianship. For example, the right of parental custody comes with the responsibility to support the child financially. This continues even if a parent does not have physical custody of their child. Guardians, by contrast, cannot be ordered to pay child support.
Parents with custody rights also have the ability to control who has access to their child, such as grandparents and relatives. Guardians can also object, but only if the court has granted them that authority. Otherwise, a guardian would need to visit with the court about excluding certain people from a child’s life.
Consult an Experienced Michigan Attorney About the Child in Your Life and Your Options
The best way to know your rights and responsibilities is to visit with a seasoned Michigan family lawyer from The Smith Law Offices, P.C.
We can help ensure you have the legal authority you need to act in your child’s best interests in Livonia, Plymouth, and the surrounding areas. Contact us today.