Raising kids can be stressful, especially for those who aren’t traditional parents.

Families with children raised by their grandparents have become increasingly common. The Atlantic reported that the percentage of children raised in grandfamilies has doubled since the 1970s. Across the U.S., roughly 3% of all children live in homes without their parents. In some counties, the numbers are even higher.

Guardianship matters for legal reasons

While there are many reasons that grandparents may end up raising their grandchildren, the fact is that it’s usually because their children aren’t able to do it. The issues may be temporary, such as the loss of a job or imprisonment, or they may be ongoing, such as in the cases of mental illness or substance abuse. Whatever the reason, the grandparent becomes responsible for raising the child. But many of these grandparents still fail to ask the courts for guardianship.

Doing so can make sense, especially if they’re related by blood. But without legal status, the situation can be more precarious. On the other hand, as the legal guardian of a child, one can:

  • Gain decision-making powers for a grandchild’s finances, education and healthcare.
  • Have the right to feed and house the child.
  • Can appoint other guardians in case something should happen to them
  • Offer a grandchild more stability

This last point is noteworthy. Just as parents going through hard times may suddenly ask the grandparents to take care of their children, they might become jealous. Or they may become possessed with some other idea that would cause them to take the child out of their home. Maybe the grandchild’s mom or dad shows up drunk and wants to take the child out of the house and out of school to move across the country. Sadly, a grandparent has no legal right to stop them in this situation. But, as a guardian, grandparents can make a stronger case that the child should stay at home and in school.

Parents don’t have to be replaced

One of the key differences between a guardianship and adoption is that grandparents don’t need to end the parents’ parental rights. This means that if one’s son or daughter ends up turning their life around, the grandchild can go back to them. Depending on the circumstances, courts can end a guardianship if they feel it’s no longer needed.