What Differences Exist Between Adoption and Guardianship?


Adoption and guardianship have some elements in common and some differences. Both signify a legal relationship between an adult and a child, in which the adult has specified obligations and rights toward that child. Many people mix these terms up, mistakenly thinking adoption and guardianship mean the same thing. From the viewpoint of the law, the two legal relationships are very different.


An adoption is a legal process. It’s a procedure whereby a person assumes all rights and responsibilities in caring for and parenting a child. An individual who chooses to adopt a child will be considered the child’s parent. That person then has the right to make choices for the minor child.

Adoption is considered a permanent relationship between adult and child. The biological parents’ rights and responsibilities end when a child is adopted. A child’s biological parents no longer have any say in the child’s life, and there is no way for them to come back later to regain their child.

Unless agreed to beforehand, biological parents have no visitation rights, and are under no responsibility to provide monetary support for the child. If the child’s biological parents should die, the child will have no legal right to inherit from them unless specified in the will.


A guardianship happens when an individual—who is not a child’s parent—is granted a parent’s rights regarding that child. A legal guardian shoulders the obligations a parent would normally have, including providing the child with emotional and financial support, proper schooling, and the basic necessities that a child needs to live.

When we contrast adoption with guardianship, we see that guardianship does not surrender a birth parent’s rights and responsibilities over the child. A guardianship often requires continued financial support from the parents to their child. Should a child’s parents leave something of value behind when they die, the child maintains his or her right to inherit the parents’ estate.

Guardianships are generally suitable in cases where a child needs temporary supervision until a more lasting plan can be established, or in circumstances such as when parents pass away unexpectedly and leave behind a minor child that needs care. In such a scenario, parents usually have pre-chosen a guardian and designated him or her in the will.

A guardianship is not generally a permanent arrangement. If parents are able to prove that they are able to care for the child adequately, then it may be revoked at any time.