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How Divorced Parents Make Medical Decisions for Children

by | Jun 30, 2020 | child custody and support, divorce, News and Events

Medical decisions are among the most important decisions that can be made for your child. However, it may not always be clear who is able to make those decisions, who would be overstepping their boundaries if they made medical decisions for the child, and how those decisions should be made. Here’s what you should know about how divorced parents can make medical decisions for their child.

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Types of Child Custody

There are two primary types of child custody:

Physical Child Custody

Physical custody refers to the rights a parent has to live with or spend time with their child. One parent may have physical custody and the other may be granted visitation rights, or both parents may share physical custody equally. Very rarely is only one parent awarded sole physical custody and the other parent afforded no right to contact their child; these cases are typically reserved for instances of domestic violence or child abuse.

Legal Child Custody

Legal custody refers to the rights a parent has to make decisions about their child’s education, medical care, and other important matters regarding the child’s life, health, and wellbeing.

Joint Legal Child Custody

Most often, both parents are awarded joint legal custody, even if only one parent is awarded visitation or partial physical custody. This is because even though a child may benefit more from spending more time with one parent than the other, both parents should be able to make important decisions regarding their child.

Sole Legal Child Custody

In some cases, only one parent is awarded sole legal custody. In this case, the parent with sole custody does not have to consult the other in regard to the child’s health or medical care at all. They have the right to make all legal decisions for the child without obtaining permission or notifying the other parent. This includes but is not limited to taking the child to the doctor, enrolling them in a particular school, and taking them to participate in extracurricular activities.

Types of Medical Decisions You Can Make for Your Child

There are generally two broad categories of medical decisions that parents must make for their children:

  • Emergency medical decisions. These include responding to physical trauma such as an accident, getting a child help if they are suicidal or harming themselves or someone else, acute illness such as sudden pain from a swollen appendix, and other emergencies where the child must be treated by a medical professional immediately.
  • Non-emergency medical decisions. These include taking the child to the doctor for a regular checkup or a sick visit, taking the child to a dentist or optometrist, getting vaccines, and other medical issues that aren’t emergent or can wait. For example, if the child comes down with a fever while at the home of a parent without legal custody, that parent should call the other and discuss the child’s condition. The parent with legal custody must agree that the child can be taken to the doctor. If the parents share legal custody, both must agree.

Even if a parent only has joint physical custody and does not have legal custody, they can make emergency medical decisions for the child until such time as the legal guardian of the child is available to make those decisions. A parent without legal custody does not have to consult the parent who does prior to making decisions in emergency medical situations.

Who Can Get Access to a Child’s Medical Records?

Only the parent(s) with legal custody can obtain access to the child’s medical records. For example, if a parent without legal custody has to take their child to the hospital in an emergency, they would still not be able to have access to the child’s test results, diagnostic notes, or other records.

When to Contact a Long Island Child Custody Attorney

If you’re currently involved in a custody battle and want to preserve your rights to make medical and other legal decisions for your child, Hornberger & Verbitsky, P.C. can help. We can also assist you in pursuing the modification of a custody agreement in the event you believe you should have rights to your child that you don’t currently have. Contact us today for your consultation at 631-923-191

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