Parental Rights to Choose Medical Care for a Child

by Beverly Bird
The parent with legal custody decides on a child's care.

The parent with legal custody decides on a child's care.

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When you're a parent, divorce can make the simplest things difficult. If you're concerned about whether you or your spouse will have the right to authorize medical care for your child after your divorce is final, focus on the custody terms of your agreement or decree. The provisions for legal custody determine who makes major decisions regarding your child's upbringing, including health care.

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Sole Legal Custody

If you agree to give your spouse sole legal custody – or if the court orders this – she will make health care decisions for your child after your divorce. If you're awarded sole legal custody, you do so. If an emergency exists -- for example, if your child falls off her bicycle and breaks her arm while she's with you -- this is different. The parent who has physical custody at that time, either as the primary parent or the parent with visitation, makes medical decisions in an emergency. You're not expected to leave your child in pain while you reach out to her other parent for approval regarding where he wants to take her for treatment. The parent with sole legal custody can change doctors for follow-up care, however.

Joint Legal Custody

Courts often order joint legal custody, where both parents contribute to major decisions regarding their child. Unless your decree or agreement specifically states that only one of you will deal with medical issues, the law usually provides that either you or your spouse can make treatment decisions. In some states, however, you may be required to confer first.