A natural guardian is the parent of a child, recognized by law with the authority to make legal and medical decisions for the minor. In addition, natural guardians have certain responsibilities regarding the welfare of the child, including the provision of adequate shelter and food. This differs from an appointed guardian selected by a court.
Legally, adoptive parents are often treated as natural guardians, although this is not the case worldwide. This means that adoptive children have the same relationship as biological children, including inheritance rights. The biological parents of adopted children give up their guardianship rights and do not have the authority to make legal decisions. By arrangement, they may be able to visit their children and participate in childraising, depending on the terms of the adoption agreement.
From a legal standpoint, minors cannot make legal and medical decisions for themselves. A natural guardian may need to make choices regarding medical treatment and contracts. If a child has assets, these are also under control of the parent, who holds them in trust and must maintain them responsibly until the child is of age. For large estates, an appointed trustee may be required to oversee the child’s assets; for example, a grandparent might pass on a large inheritance to a child who is still not of age.
It is possible to lose guardianship of a child in several ways. A natural guardian can choose to surrender a child for a variety of reasons, or in a divorce, custody may be awarded to only one parent, who has full guardianship rights. Courts can also choose to revoke custody in cases of child abuse or neglect, in which case they may appoint a temporary or permanent guardian to provide care for the child while the issue is taken to court. Once people lose these rights, they can be difficult to regain.
Under the law, a parent is often assumed to be a natural guardian unless proven otherwise. Many nations have extended equal rights to mothers and fathers, ensuring one’s custody doesn’t have precedence over the other and custody doesn’t automatically go to one parent in a separation. In rare instances, a natural guardian may be required to submit documentation proving relationship to the child in order to exercise legal authority. This is usually designed to safeguard the interest of the child, as for example when large transfers of a minor’s securities are made and this could have an impact on the child’s portfolio.