What Is The Difference Between a Guardianship and an Adoption?

What Is The Difference Between a Guardianship and an Adoption?

Guardianship Compared to Adoption

There are similarities between a guardianship and an adoption. A primary similarity is that both are legal arrangements that are established to provide for the care and custody of minors. A significant difference between the two is that guardianship is usually intended as a temporary arrangement made by a child’s legal parents, or in some cases, the courts, to place a child with a family member or close friend. Adoption  permanently assigns the custody and care of a child to a parent or parents. 

Similarities Between Guardianship and Adoption

Both guardianship and adoption are intended to provide a stable environment for a child when their biological parent(s) do not have the means to adequately do this. Both arrangements give a parent(s) responsibility for a minor who is not biologically theirs. Both guardians and adoptive parents are supposed to provide love and support to their wards as well as to make sure they are adequately housed, fed, clothed, etc.

Differences Between Guardianship and Adoption

While both guardianship and adoption are legal arrangements for the care of a child, the effects of each of these vary significantly.

The following are some of the significant differences between guardianship and adoption:

Parental Rights

When a child or young adult is adopted, it terminates the biological parents’ legal rights whereas a legal guardianship keeps the rights of the legal parents intact. In an adoption, the adoptive parents are awarded all legal parental rights. Once the adoption has been finalized, the birth parents cannot reclaim rights to the child they gave up. In a legal guardianship though, the legal parents (typically, the biological or birth parents) can terminate the guardianship at any time and in the process, regain custody of their child.


When a child is adopted, it secures inheritance rights for the child whereas a guardianship does not do this. If the “parents” in a guardianship want their child to inherit from them, they must make special provisions for this in their will(s) if they wish to pass along an inheritance to someone who they are a guardian to.

Child Support

When a child is adopted, it ends any financial obligations that the birth parents have for the child. In a legal guardianship though, the birth parents may still have to financially support their child. 


Most adoption processes are more involved and take a longer time to execute compared to establishing a legal guardianship for a child. 


Adoption is permanent whereas a legal guardianship is temporary. While a legal guardianship is intended to be temporary, many young people live out their lives under their guardian’s care without ever being adopted.

Depending on a specific child and their birth parents’ situation, an adoption or guardianship may be good options to take.

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