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What is the Difference Between Guardianship and Adoption?

What is the Difference Between Guardianship and Adoption?

By: M. Scott Gordon

If you are seeking to become a legal guardian for the minor child of a close family member, we know that you probably have many questions about guardianship under Illinois law. There are many different legal relationships that an adult in Chicago can have to a minor child, and one of them is guardianship. But this is not the only legal relationship that allows an adult to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing and day-to-day well-being.

The other common legal statuses under Illinois law that gives adults decision-making responsibilities for a child are adoption and foster care. Foster care, however, is distinct from guardianship and adoption in that it is what the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services refers to as “a temporary safe haven for children who are at serious risk of harm.” In other words, foster care and becoming a foster parent is necessarily a temporary legal status. Adoption and guardianship, differently, are long term – and adoption is permanent. What is the difference, then, between guardianship and adoption? There are a couple of major differences between the two that we will discuss here.

What is a Guardianship?

Before we explain the differences between adoption and guardianship, it is important to understand how the law defines a guardianship. A guardian is someone who is appointed by the court to provide care for a child and to have legal responsibilities for the child. A guardian cannot simply give up guardianship. Instead, she or he only can cease being the guardian if the child’s parent is again able to care for the child, another person is able to become the guardian, the child turns 18 years old (and thus becomes a legal adult), or the Court terminates the guardianship.

In other words, guardians take on the role of a legal parent for most situations.

Rights of the Birth Parent(s) or Legal Parent(s)

A guardianship sounds a lot like an adopting, right? The first major difference between a guardianship and an adoption concerns the rights of the birth parent or legal parent. When a person legally adopts a child, that person becomes the child’s new legal parent. As such, the adoptive parent has all of the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent, and the birth parents’ rights are terminated; they cannot try to regain parental rights once that birth parent again becomes able to care for the child. Because the birth parent’s rights are terminated, the adoptive parent becomes the legal parent of the child.

Differently, a guardianship is a legal role that can change when the birth parent (or otherwise legal parent) becomes able to take care of the child again. While the guardian does take on the role of a legal parent in many capacities during the guardianship, that can change when the legal parent comes back into the picture.

Duration of Adoption and Guardianship

Guardianship and adoption are also very different in terms of their duration. A guardianship typically lasts only until the child turns 18, and it can be dissolved in many situations while the child is still a minor (if, for instance, the legal parent petitions to regain rights). In other words, a guardianship is imagined as temporary.

Adoption, however, is a permanent role. The relationship between adoptive parent and child does not end when the child turns 18, but rather continues throughout the child’s life—even once that child enters adulthood.

Contact a Chicago Guardianship Lawyer

Do you have questions about guardianship? A Chicago guardianship lawyer can speak with you today. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates for more information.