What To Do When Parents Can’t Agree on a Child’s Medical Treatment

For parents, there is nothing worse than seeing your child injured, sick, or in pain. Even parents who in ordinary circumstances would never get along will still work together to make sure that their child gets the medical care that they need. But what if the parents cannot agree on the type of treatment that is best for their child? Who makes the ultimate decision about a child’s medical care?

Decision-Making Power

In Florida, a parent may have legal custody, physical custody, or both types of custody over a child. Parents can also share these types of custody jointly. Physical custody refers to having actual parenting time with the child, whether that means that the child lives with the parent full time, or has schedule visitation periods.

In contrast, legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for the child’s welfare. A parent with legal custody has the authority to decide things like where the child will go to school and how the child should be raised.

In many parenting plans, parents will have joint legal and physical custody. Even if one parent does not have physical custody of the child, he or she will often still share legal custody. In most cases, a parent will retain legal custody over the child unless there is a history of abandonment, neglect, abuse, domestic violence, assault, or certain sex offenses. Alternatively, a parent’s legal custody may be limited if both parents agree to restrict one person’s decision-making power, or if one parent has limited contact with the child, weak family bonds with the child, or a history emotional problems or mental instability.  If there are no such issues in a case, then parents will most likely share decision-making power over their children.

Emergency Situations

When a child needs medical attention, the parent with the decision-making power should control the child’s treatment options. If parents share decision-making power, then both parents will have to come to an agreement about how the child should be treated.

However, there is an exception to the decision-making power rules. If the child is seriously injured in an emergency situation while spending time with the non-custodial parent, then that parent (or other relative) can seek emergency medical treatment for the child. For example, if only the mother has decision-making power, but a child is an auto accident while traveling with the father, the father can take that child for emergency treatment without approval from the mother. In contrast, the same father could not schedule the child for an unnecessary, elective surgery without the mother’s consent.

Conflicts Between Parents

When a child is dealing with a long illness or serious injury, the parents may need to make multiple treatment decisions about the best course of action. In these situations, the parents may not always agree on what is best for the child.

If this situation occurs when one parent has limited decision-making power, then the solution is simple: the parent with full decision-making power gets the final say. If parents share joint decision-making power, then the resulting conflict may be more complicated.

In every parenting plan, parents are required to choose how they will resolve disputes. Usually, this involves some sort of mediation, arbitration, or counseling agreement. Parents will be required to use the means they specified in their parenting plan first to resolve any disputes about their child’s medical treatment.

If dispute resolution tactics fail, or if the issue is serious enough to warrant immediate attention, the judge in parents’ divorce or child custody case has the power to make a final decision. This could occur if one parent objects to a necessary treatment for religious or personal reasons and refuses to change his or her mind. In this situation, the judge would consider the best interests of the child, the potential success of the treatment, and the opinions of both parents before making a decision.

Help For Parents

Sick and injured children need the full support of both of their parents. For that reason, it is important to negotiate a parenting plan that clearly delineates each parent’s responsibilities in case of an injury, illness, or other medical emergency.

At the Law Office of Jonathan M. Galler, P.A., we know how important the health of your children is to your family. If you need assistance creating a parenting plan, child support schedule, or other family law matter, contact our office today by calling 561.881.6912.