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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Family and Relationships > Division of Child Protection and Permanency/Child Welfare > Guardianship and Adoption

Family Law: Kinship Legal Guardianship and Adoption—What is the Difference?


There are several ways to get Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG). This article explains how to ask the court for KLG when you are involved in a case with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). If you, as a parent, have lost custody of your child to DCP&P and are facing termination of your parental rights or if you are a relative caring for a child who has been removed from the child's parents, KLG may be a better option than adoption. The main purpose of KLG is to allow the child to keep a relationship with the parents while being cared for by another relative. This article does not address private KLG options outside of a DCP&P case.

What is Kinship Legal Guardianship?

The KLG program was introduced in 2002 as an alternative to adoption or long-term foster care placement. An increased number of relatives (especially grandparents) were providing long-term care for children removed by DCP&P at a time when there was public pressure to limit the time children spend in foster care. The New Jersey legislature found it was in the best interest of the public to create a new type of guardianship that would address the needs of children and caregivers in long-term kinship relationships without terminating a parent’s parental rights.

When you become a kinship legal guardian, you gain custody of the child and all parenting responsibilities. This includes making decisions about the child’s care and well-being; consenting to routine and emergency medical and mental health care; arranging and consenting to educational plans for the child; applying for financial assistance and social services for which the child is eligible; applying for a motor vehicle operator’s license; applying for admission to college; responsibility for activities necessary to ensure the child’s safety, permanency and well-being; and ensuring the maintenance and protection of the child. In other words, the court is expecting you, the guardian, to raise the child and ensure their well-being as if you were their parent.

Am I eligible for KLG?

If you have a biological or legal relationship to a child in your care—for example, you are their grandparent, aunt/uncle, or step-mother or step-father—you are eligible for KLG. New Jersey also allows a family friend to be appointed as a guardian by the court. In order to be eligible as a family friend, you must show that you have a real connection to the child or parents and have a positive emotional relationship with the child. This can be someone such as a godparent, best friend of the family, or close neighbor. In all of these situations, the guardian must also have lived with the child for at least 12 months in order to be eligible for KLG.

What should I know before I ask for Kinship Legal Guardianship?

Choosing Kinship Legal Guardianship has a number of benefits for both the child and the caregiver. First, KLG does not terminate parental rights. This means that the biological parent(s) will still have the opportunity to visit the child. As the guardian, you cannot change the child’s name. This allows the child to still maintain contact with the biological parents. The child is also entitled to any benefits, inheritances, or assets from the biological parents. Under the adoption plan, the child loses his or her right to these benefits. Finally, a kinship caregiver is entitled to numerous financial support systems. This includes clothing stipends and other resources. The parents still have the following rights and obligations:

  • The right to visit the child;
  • The power to consent to an adoption or name change; and
  • The obligation to pay child support.

The parent(s) can file requests to the court to ask for more visitation or enforce current visitation until the child turns 18.

The child may still visit with siblings and/or extended family, with the kinship legal guardian’s permission or as allowed by the court. At any point, the parents have the right to reunification if they can show that the reasons for the original DCP&P concerns have been resolved and that they can now parent the child in a safe way.

How do I become a kinship legal guardian?

If a court has determined that the parent(s) cannot raise their child and that the child should remain with you, the family, or friend caretaker, it will then consider whether adoption is realistic or likely. Only if the court finds that adoption is not realistic or likely will they consider KLG. If they decide to pursue KLG, they will look to you to see if you are eligible as a guardian and, if you are, they will assess whether you have made a commitment to raising the child and have the ability to do so until the child turns 18 years old. If you meet this standard, then the court will perform an assessment of what is in the best interests of the child using a number of factors. If they conclude, after their assessment, that KLG is in the best interests of the child, then they may appoint you as a kinship legal guardian.

What should I know about adoption?

In an adoption, a parent’s legal status as a parent is fully and permanently terminated, and that status is transferred fully over to the adoptive parents. If the court grants an adoption to you, the parents may no longer regain parental rights to their children. This means the child will no longer receive any benefits, inheritances, or assets from the parents and the parents do not have to pay child support to you. Additionally, the parents will have to obtain your consent to visit the child. Unlike KLG, adoptive parents are given full legal status as parents and the rights that come with it—rights that continue beyond the age of 18. Adoptive parents may change the child's name.

Do I get a financial subsidy?

Under an adoption or a KLG obtained through DCP&P, financial subsidies (known as the board rate) will be available to help the caregiver by providing:

  • A regular monthly payment, including a clothing allowance to help parents meet everyday needs.
  • Medicaid coverage for the child to assist with any physical or psychological condition that is not covered by the family’s own insurance.
  • For children with disabilities, special services for a specific medical, health, or equipment need, which may be approved on a case-by-case basis.

There is no large difference in the amount between the rates for KLG and an adoption. In most cases, the board rate is established at the time the child is placed in the guardian’s care. In both cases, the subsidy amount can be reduced by the amount of the children’s SSI payments and stops, if the guardian stops caring for the child, at age 18 or when the child graduates high school, whichever occurs later.

Terminating a parent’s rights entirely can have a devastating effect on a child. One of the goals of KLG is to ease this effect by ensuring that the child grows up in a stable, safe, and permanent household without the threat of losing his/her parents entirely. See Guardianship and Adoption to learn more about KLG and adoption.

If you have any questions about Kinship Legal Guardianship contact Legal Services of New Jersey’s Family Representation Project by calling LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). You may also apply for help online. If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.​​​