Parental Rights to Choose Medical Care for a Child

By Beverly Bird

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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Reasons to Deny Custody

References

Related articles

Who Qualifies for Joint Custody of a Child?

When they realize divorce is imminent, many parents hope to have joint custody of the children. The term "joint custody" is more complicated than it seems on the surface, however. It can mean different things in different states, but more often than not, it refers to legal custody, which has no bearing on how much time your child spends with you. By any name, courts typically want some assurances before they order it that it’s going to work out. You'll probably have to ask for it in your divorce filings because judges are sometimes reluctant to order joint custody if parents have not expressed a desire for it, or if parent is adamantly opposed to it.

Who Has the Right to Custody During Noncustodial Visitation?

Custody trumps visitation. It is never changed or altered simply because a child is visiting with her non-custodial parent. The rights of a parent who has sole legal custody, sole physical custody or both remain intact until and unless a court modifies them by issuing a new custody order. Whether a child sleeps over at a friend’s house, her grandparent’s house or her non-custodial parent’s house, the custodial parent still has custody during those times, according to the terms of the court order. However, this does not mean the custodial parent always has unilateral control over everything involving her child.

Temporary Visitation Rights

If you are a parent and filing for divorce, you can ask the court for custody and visitation orders in addition to other relief you may be seeking, such as property, alimony and child support. If your spouse currently has the kids and you want to see them while the divorce is pending, you can petition the court for a temporary visitation order. This order establishes your visitation rights and remains in effect until the court finalizes the divorce and a permanent order takes its place.

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