When a child’s parents are unwilling, unavailable or unfit to care for their children for any reason, another adult may be awarded either a guardianship of the children or custody of the children. Under New York family law, guardianship and custody are two related but distinct concepts, and the intersection of the two can be complex at times.
As a default rule, a child’s parents are awarded custody of their children. This includes physical custody (where the child lives) as well as legal custody (the right to make important life decisions for the child). However, in some cases, a child’s parents are either unavailable or unable to care for their children and an alternative caretaker must be established. Thus, custody in this context generally refers to a non-parent.
New York Guardianship
A minor child who is under the age of 18 and is not married must have a legal guardian. Once appointed, a legal guardian has the same power as a child’s parent to make decisions for the child.