LEGAL GUIDE
Written by Avvo Staff | Aug 25, 2015

Permanent vs. temporary guardianship

Both permanent and temporary guardianship allow a non-parent to make decisions about a child’s life. However, the two types accomplish that in different ways.

Permanent guardianship gives the child a long-term stable home. Temporary guardianship is a short-term solution to an emergency or fixable issue with the child’s parents.

What is temporary guardianship?

Temporary guardianship, as the name implies, is temporary. It’s set up to meet a specific goal and comes with a time limit. That limit varies by state, but usually ranges from 60 days to 6 months.

In many cases, temporary guardianship lasts for a much shorter time. Once the stated goal has been met, the guardianship automatically ends.

A judge may grant temporary guardianship in many different situations, such as:

  • A single parent being hospitalized
  • Both parents being killed in an accident
  • A child needing life-saving medical care but the parents refusing
  • The parent (or permanent guardian) leaving the county for a short time
  • The parents being temporarily unable to care for the child

The specifics of temporary guardianship and its availability in different situations varies by state.

In most cases, a parent must agree to temporary guardianship, and a court cannot grant one over their objections.

What is emergency guardianship?

This is a special kind of temporary guardianship. Some states treat it a bit differently because there’s usually no time for all the procedural details courts go through before granting guardianship. The child needs a guardian right away, not in a few weeks.

In some states, emergency guardianships may also have a much shorter time limit—even as short as a few days.

What is a permanent guardianship?

Permanent guardianship creates a stable, long-term family for a child. The permanent guardian has the authority to make all the same decisions the child’s natural parents would make.

This type of guardianship is permanent in that it is hard to change or end once it’s been granted. But it’s not truly permanent, because it ends once the child becomes a legal adult (usually at age 18).

Note that in some rare cases, parents may petition the courts to get back custody of their child, even after he or she has been placed with a permanent guardian.

Changing from temporary to permanent guardianship

It’s sometimes possible for a temporary guardianship to be changed to a permanent guardianship. At the end of the temporary guardianship, the guardian can often ask for full guardianship if:

  • The parents are still not able to care for the child, and
  • It’s clear they won’t be able to in the near future

If the parents are still alive, they’re generally supposed to be notified of the request, and can object to it.

Guardianship laws vary by state, and the issues can often be confusing. But the key thing to remember is that courts are supposed to act in the best interests of the child. If you still have questions about either temporary or full guardianship, a family law attorney in your state can help you understand your options.

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