Sometimes it is necessary for someone else to temporarily or permanently take care of your child;
No matter how much a parent loves their child, they may be unable to take care of their child for various reasons. Some common reasons are when one or both parents:

  • Are in the military and have to go overseas;
  • Are going to jail or a rehab program for a while;
  • Have a serious physical or mental illness;
  • Have a drug or alcohol abuse problem;
  • Have a history of being abusive;
  • Do not wish to be a parent; or
  • Cannot take care of their child for some other reasons

Many families handle this informally, by mutual agreement or understanding between the parent(s) and the person who will take care of the child. However to have the legal, enforceable, right to take on the full responsibility and welfare of that child, there are formal steps that must be taken.

There are several methods one may use to obtain the legal rights to a child, depending on the circumstances. The two most common methods are guardianship and adoption. Although Guardianship and
Adoption are similar, there are some major differences.



Guardianship is when a court orders someone other than the child’s parent to have custody of the child (Guardianship of the person) and/or manage property that belongs to the child (Guardianship of the Estate).

Guardianship of the person:

In a guardianship of the person, the guardian takes full responsibility to care for the child as a parent
would. The guardian will have full legal and physical custody of the child and will make all the decisions about the care of the child including: physical and emotional growth, medical and dental care, food, clothing, shelter, education, special needs, safety, and protection.  The guardian is also be responsible for supervision of the child and may be liable for any intentional damages the child causes.

Although the Guardian will take care of the child, the parents will still have parental rights and may request to maintain reasonable contact with their child.

Additionally, the Guardian may be supervised by the court and if the parents later become willing and/or able to take care of the child, the court may decide to end the guardianship.


Guardianship of the estate:

A child usually needs a guardian of the estate if he or she inherits money or assets. The Guardian of the estate will be responsible for managing the child’s money and property and making smart investments until the child turns
18 years old. The court may appoint the child’s parents or someone else to be the guardian of the child’s estate. Although the court sometimes appoints one person to be both the guardian of the person and of the estate, sometimes two different people are appointed.



Adoption is the legal process of establishing a legal parentchild relationship. Once an adoption is final, that new parent-child relationship is permanent and is exactly the same as that of a birth family. This means that the adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities of caring for the child. Additionally, the adopted child will inherit from his or her adoptive parents, just as a birth child would and the adoptive families are not subject to supervision by the court.

There are two types of adoptions:

1. The Stepparent/domestic partner adoption and;
2. The Independent, agency, or international adoption.

Stepparent/domestic partner adoption. A stepparent/domestic partner adoption is when the spouse or domestic partner of a child’s parent adopts the child. This is the most common type of adoption and is the most simple because one of the child’s parents still remains the child’s parent. It is only an option if the parent and the adoptive parent are legally married or registered as domestic partners.

Independent adoption. An independent adoption is when no adoption agency or the Department of Social Services is part of the adoption case. Rather, prospective adoptive parents are advised by an adoption attorney and will take an active role in identifying a birth mother and obtaining that mother’s consent.

Agency adoption. Agency adoption is when the California Department of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency is part of the adoption case. In an agency adoption, the birth parents relinquish their parental rights to an agency, and the agency, will then consent to an adoption by specific adoptive parents.

International adoption. International adoption is when the child to be adopted was born in another country.

In all these three types, the court terminates parental rights of both of the child’s birth parents, and the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents.


Our firm handles both Guardianship and Stepparent adoptions.  For more information on the next steps to get the help you need, please visit our “Get Started” page.