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Which Parent Can Make Children’s Medical Decisions?

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Oct 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

Though most parents try to work together when it comes to handling children's medical decisions, there are some cases where the parents are completely opposed to one another's views and no amount of talking will resolve the dispute. If the parents are still married, they have equal decision making ability for their children, but if they are not, it can be confusing to understand these rights with regard to such a tricky issue.

Check Your Agreement or Order

If you and the other parent have a dispute about children's medical decisions, look first to your custody agreement or court order. This detailed document will typically clearly spell out each parent's rights, responsibilities, and obligations with regard to the children. Most agreements specifically state whether one parent is in charge of making healthcare decisions or whether the parents have equal say so. In many cases, the parents may be required to work together in good faith to reach a mutually agreeable decision, but one parents may be given final decision-making authority if they cannot agree.

General Rules (Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody)

If your custody agreement or court order isn't very specific, it might be confusing to understand who is in charge of making which decisions. Generally, a document that only states that parents have “joint custody” of the child (without specifying anything further) means that the parents share equal authority and decision-making ability over the child's medical decisions (as well as other aspects of the child's life). However, if one parent has been awarded “sole custody”, that parent will have sole authority to make all legal decisions for the child, including medical ones.

What About Serious Conflicts?

Though small disagreements might be easy to resolve, it is not unusual for parents to disagree over more critical issues, such as one parent refusing to give medication to a child that the other parent believes to be necessary. If the problems regarding the children's medical decisions are ongoing or regarding a particularly serious issue, the parent lacking authority may wish to petition the court for a change of custody. If so, that parent will need to show that (a) there has been a significant change in circumstances since the parties were last in court and (b) the requested change is in the best interest of the child. The court will review and consider the new evidence and, if it believes the child's health has been endangered, could decide to alter the existing custodial arrangement.

Source: “Medication Disputes, Your Child and Custody Cases,” published at

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J. Benjamin Stevens

Senior Partner


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