There are several basic types of guardianship of a child although the specific laws concerning this issue vary by jurisdiction. A guardian is someone who is legally appointed to make decisions on behalf of a child with the child's best interests in mind. Guardianship can be shared, often called co-guardianship, or granted to a single individual, i.e., sole guardianship. Some other types of guardianship include parental guardianship, standby guardianship, subsidized guardianship, and guardianship ad litem.
Parental guardianship refers to the guardianship of a child being in the hands of the child's natural parents. This is generally considered to be the ideal situation. They parents are in charge of the child's finances, healthcare, education, and all other issues concerning the child's well being. This is the usual guardian status in most families unless circumstances interfere.
In instances where the child's parents are no longer competent or available, a guardian can be appointed to act as the child's parent; when done ahead of time it is often called standby guardianship. This form of guardianship is legally recognized in many jurisdictions. It allows the parents to select a guardian by prearrangement who would take over in the event that the parent becomes incapacitated by illness, dies, or is unable to care for their child for any other reason. The standby guardian can also take over at the parent's request, and the arrangement can be temporary or permanent depending on the circumstances.
In some jurisdictions, a subsidized guardianship can be established, which involves financial assistance to the guardian to help provide for the child's needs. This type of guardianship of a child was created to help to find permanent placements for children who might otherwise end up in foster care, such as children in the child welfare system, or whose parents have died. The financial assistance can often help family members or other loved ones to become a child's guardian when they can't manage the financial burden on their own.
In certain types of legal cases, a guardian ad litem will be appointed to represent the child's interests independently of the parents and the court. This frequently occurs to protect the child in bitter custody battles, child abuse or neglect cases, or delinquency. This person is solely charged with representing the child's interests in court, but they are not the kind of guardian who has care of the child outside of the legal process.