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Legal custody and the right to make medical decisions

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2023 | Divorce

After a divorce co-parents generally cooperate to make decisions about important matters regarding their children. However, some parents may wonder if they have the legal right to make such choices on their own.

For instance, there may be circumstances where one parent has to make a medical decision suddenly or the parents cannot agree on the course of action. Courts grant the right to make these decisions via legal custody.

Legal custody

Physical custody refers to where children physically reside. Legal custody is different. It is the ability to make key decisions about their lives. Sole legal custody is when only one parent has that right, and joint legal custody is when both parents share it. However, if a parent does not have legal custody or shares it and the parents disagree about a life-changing or saving treatment, vaccination or medication, both parents have the right to petition the court, which will hold a trial or hearing if it believes the matter may affect the children’s best interests. It may then intervene. Mediation may also help parents resolve such conflicts.

Emergency situations

In urgent medical situations, the parent with physical custody at that moment typically has the authority to make immediate decisions. However, communication with the other parent should follow as soon as possible to keep them informed about the situation and any decisions made.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children are more likely to become sick or injured than adults because they breathe in more air, have thinner skin, are more likely to lose body heat and in general expose themselves to outdoor germs more. Parents often have to make medical decisions for their children. Legally, their ability to do so depends on the situation and whether they have legal custody, but they have legal recourse when they do not but believe a decision is important.