Godparent or Guardian?


Many UK parents are unaware of the role and responsibility of a Godparent versus a Guardian regarding the future of their children

Now that Royal baby Archie Harrison has been Christened, speculation is rife as to who his parents have chosen as Godparents.

New research by Hedges Law finds, however, that nearly nine out of 10 UK parents have no legal guardian for the care of their children, with more than a third assuming the role lies with the Godparents; consequently putting any potential future decision over their child’s care in the hands of the Family Courts. 
Over a third of parents questioned for the survey mistakenly believe that a Godparent has the same legal rights and responsibilities as a legal guardian, unknowingly leaving any potential future decision over their child’s care for the Family courts.

Rachel Carrington-Matthews is a Private Client Solicitor at Hedges Law and she explains: “With the announcement this week of Royal baby Archie Harrison’s christening , there is much speculation in the media on who will be appointed Archie’s Godparents. Whoever they are, Archie’s Godparents will play a very different role to his legally appointed guardian, who in his case, as decreed by UK law, will be the Queen.”

A legal guardian has responsibility for taking all parental decisions and sometimes, for managing a child’s property and inheritance in the event of the parents’ death, whereas a Godparent has no legal standing and is often chosen to support the child’s upbringing and personal development.

Rachel continues: “While the rest of us don’t have the convention of UK law to choose our children’s legal guardians, our findings show that, worryingly, most parents are still not appointing one. There is a concerning level of misunderstanding that godparents carry the same legal rights and responsibilities as a legal guardian.”

The study also revealed that nearly two thirds (63%) of parents admitted that they did not know what a legal guardian is and a combined 62% incorrectly assume that legal custody will automatically fall with either a family member or Godparent.

A third (34%) said: ‘I do not need to appoint a legal guardian as we already have godparents for our children’, highlighting the confusion among parents over the role of legal guardian versus Godparent.

Rachel continues: “With no legal guardian stipulated in a parent’s will, then it will fall to the Family Court to decide who will have long-term legal custody over the care of the child and that may not be the person the parents would have wanted.

“We always advise parents to not only appoint a guardian in their will but to include a letter defining the reasons for their choice so should the matter still go to the Family Courts; the Judge is clear on the reasons for the parents’ choice of carer.

“While appointing a guardian is one of the most important decisions a parent or parents can make, it is still, in my experience the least considered.”

Over half still yet to make a Will

The study by Hedges Law also revealed that 48% of parents are yet to make a will, giving this as a reason for having not appointed a guardian.

Rachel said: “Many parents believe that they are too young to make a Will and that they do not have enough monetary assets, but making a Will is actually one of the first things new parents should do; during that process, they should appoint a legal guardian or guardians for their child or children.“

Although it is understandably hard to think about what might happen, it is extremely important to make your wishes known, and remember that the Will can always be amended or updated at any time. Doing this enables the parents to choose and control who will look after their children in the event of their death.”

Case Study

Victoria Walker is 29, married and has recently christened her one year old child. Victoria appointed three godparents for her child but has never appointed a guardian.

Despite having a will, she was unaware of the role of a legal guardian and the importance of one. She says: “I had no idea that if my partner and I passed away, or were incapacitated, the decision of whose custody our daughter would go in to may not lie with the people we trust the most. It’s frightening that this message isn’t common knowledge.”

Find out more at Hedges Law