To have custody means to be in charge of someone. There are two kinds of custody
: physical and legal. The same person often has physical and legal custody – but not always. Physical custody
is when an adult is responsible for a child and takes care of the child. Usually the child lives with this adult. Legal custody
is when an adult has the responsibility of making important decisions – such as medical, educational or religious decisions – about the life of a child.
There are two kinds of guardianship
: guardianship of a person and guardianship of property. Guardianship of a person, is when an adult takes care of someone who is unable to take care of him or herself. The person is usually a child. A guardian is responsible for the child, cares for the child, and makes decisions about the everyday life of the child. Guardians have legal custody over a child. Guardians usually also have physical custody of the child.
In New York State, there are very few differences between custody and guardianship. However, in other states, there are big differences between the two. If the child will live in a state other than New York with your family member, you should find out about the laws in the state where they will live. This will help you decide whether another family member should petition for custody or guardianship of the child.
For more information on custody cases, please see the LIFT guide, “Custody and Visitation
.” For more information on the rights of relatives in family court, including around custody and guardianship, please see the LIFT guide, “Rights of Relatives in Family Court