Child custody and guardianship are closely related legal terms that refer to an adult's rights and responsibilities regarding the care of a minor. Child custody and guardianship differ in the amount of decision-making power granted to the caregiver.
A child's custodian may also be her guardian, but a guardian does not always have custody. Likewise, guardianship may be permanent while custody may only be temporary.
Child custody encompasses the ability of a party to make legal and medical decisions for a child. Guardianships may only be limited to day-to-day care with limited decision-making powers.
When making a custody or guardianship determination, the court will look at the best interests of the child and determine what arrangement will ensure that she has a safe, stable home and appropriate caregiver.
While judges most frequently make child custody determinations, either custodial parents or the court system may make guardianship arrangements.
Each state makes it own laws and procedures regarding child custody and guardianship. Verify the exact processes and definitions for your jurisdiction by contacting a family lawyer or state social service agency.