In today’s world, family has come to mean many things to many people. Maryland Family law has default provisions for parentage and custody, but there are also protections for alternative families that can be obtained by court order. Adoption and guardianship are the two most common ways for an adult to assume responsibility, care, and custody of a minor child in Maryland. Here is some more information about these legal procedures.
Understanding the Terminology
Adoption. When an adult wishes to assume the role of a parent in a child’s life, they can adopt the child through a legal proceeding. This is available for single parents, couples, and second-parent adoptions. In order for an adoption to take place, the birth parents have to give consent, and in most cases, give up all parental rights to the child (the exception being second-parent adoptions). In addition to an adoption certificate, the parents can obtain a new birth certificate for the child, listing the adoptive parent. Due to the absolute change in adult-child relationships in adoption, notice, consent, and completion of the adoption process require careful attention to detail.
Guardianship. Short of complete parental rights, guardianship is a process that allows an adult to take control of the personal and financial affairs of a minor child. These two roles can be split or joint depending on the circumstances. As with adoption, the consent of the parents is needed for guardianship. However, unlike adoption, where the adoptive parent has independent control and discretion, guardians are required to receive training and make regular reports to the court about the child’s well-being in connection with the guardianship. Guardianship petitions can only be filed by “interested persons” which means that, unless the court appoints a professional guardian, the appointment generally goes to someone with a specific relationship to the child, often a relative.
Custody. This term often gets used in discussions about minor children. Generally, custody refers to legal or physical custody divisions between parents of a child. Guardianship refers to non-parent rights and obligations over a minor child.
How to Get it Done
With the recent rulings by the Supreme Court, protecting your family is all the more important. In both adoption and guardianship, a party has to file a petition in court to obtain the rights being sought. Both proceedings are complex, and many rules govern the consent needed from parents, the information the court requires to agree to issue the decree, and judges have a great deal of discretion to decide whether or not to grant the petition. An experienced family law attorney will be familiar with the intricacies of each judge’s rules and preferences, and they can help navigate an adoption to successful completion. As such, adults seeking these rights over a minor child should work with counsel from the start.