If you have been taking care of a relative's child and have become so involved in the child's life that you essentially have full-time custody, you may be thinking about either applying for legal guardianship or even adoption of the child. While both would give you greater control over the child's life, there are some crucial differences. Before you start your legal custody journey, consider these three things to help you make a decision about what to do.
Birth Parent Rights
In adoption, the birth parent relinquishes all rights. He or she has no say in the child's life, legally (you can always confer with the birth parent on your own, but the birth parent doesn't have legal rights to influence the child's life if he or she gives up those rights). In a guardianship, though, the birth parent can retain parental rights. The courts are going to look at your case with the idea of what's best for the child in mind. If you believe cutting the birth parent out of the child's life is best, then going for adoption may be better, or a guardianship where you can cut off those rights. But if you want the birth parent to still play a legal part in the child's life, guardianship is the way to go.
If you feel the birth parent should still help support the child financially, and you want the option to legally pursue the birth parent for money, then guardianship where the birth parent retains parental rights is the option you want. However, be aware that the level of financial involvement could vary according to what the court thinks is correct. Don't assume that since the birth parent retains rights that you'll be able to easily get financial support from him or her. If you adopt the child, though, you will likely become solely responsible financially.
With adoption, you would become the child's legal parent. Since the birth parent would relinquish parental rights, he or she would also relinquish the legal right to demand visitation. Again, you could always work something out on your own, but in adoption, that child becomes yours and is not subject to joint custody between you and the birth parent. If you don't want the birth parent to be able to demand visitation rights, adoption is your best bet.
However, because the court looks at each case individually, you have to work with a good adoption or custody attorney who can walk you through all of the ins and outs of each option and the process that you'd have to go through.