When birth parents are unable to take care of their children, a qualified individual can be appointed as legal guardian or adoptive parent. Under Pennsylvania law, there are major differences between guardianship and adoption, mainly to do with permanency and the rights of a guardian and the child under their care.

The child’s health and happiness should always be the main concern whether deciding on placement through adoption or guardianship. Whichever path is chosen, a qualified family lawyer can help mitigate the pain and confusion many children experience when their primary caregiver changes.

What is the difference between a guardianship and adoption?

Because a guardianship technically ends when a child comes of age at 18, it is not meant to be permanent and therefore does not carry the same automatic rights or inheritance policies that come with adoption. Adoption is a permanent change, and an adopted child has the same rights as a natural child of the adopted parents. While guardianships can be updated or modified by the court, adoptions are permanent and the child’s rights cannot be changed by death or divorce. When beginning or modifying a guardianship, it’s crucial to have an experienced attorney represent your interests.

How do you apply for guardianship?

Typically, a parent will name a guardian for their minor children in their will. Often that person is a grandparent or another trusted relative. In the case of the birth parent’s death, the named guardian does not automatically receive guardianship, however — they will need to petition the court to issue an order confirming the guardianship before the child can legally be under their care. The first step in applying for guardianship is contacting an experienced family lawyer who can help you navigate the court system quickly and efficiently.

What is the adoption process in Pennsylvania? 

The state of Pennsylvania follows a standard eight-step adoption process when matching children with their future families. Interested families choose an agency and submit an adoption application and create a Family Profile with the assistance of an adoption professional. The adoption agencies can then match children with potential families, schedule pre-placement visits to ensure the suggested match is a good one, and then, after a six-month period of supervision, finalize the adoption in court.

If you are considering adoption or securing a guardianship, an attorney experienced in handling such matters can best represent your interests. At my firm, Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law, I have helped families and individuals with adoption and guardianship arrangements for more than 15 years. Call my Somerset office today at 814-443-1631 or contact me online to schedule a free consultation.