Family Law
Your Children

Which parent chooses medical care for their children post-divorce?

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2024 | Child Custody

Parents who do not remain married or continue cohabitating with one another usually share custody of their children moving forward. When adults separate or divorce, they usually establish a formal custody order. Either through compromise or litigation, people decide how they should divide parental rights and responsibilities. They can then refer to their custody order to help them manage any challenges that arise. The custody order should include an outline of how they can share parental rights and responsibilities. Having an order in place doesn’t guarantee peaceful co-parenting.

Sometimes, parents find themselves disagreeing about important decisions for their children. Parents have the responsibility to make difficult decisions about a child’s education and healthcare, for example. Which parent typically has medical decision-making authority in a California co-parenting arrangement?

Parents usually share legal custody

Although people use the word custody to refer to parenting time, California differentiates between physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is the immediate control over the child and responsibility to provide for their needs. A parent with physical custody has parenting time with the children.

Legal custody refers to decision-making responsibility. Usually, the adults in a family share that legal custody just like they share parenting time. When it comes to healthcare decisions, both parents typically have the authority to make emergency decisions for a sudden issue that arises during their parenting time. However, long-term decisions and non-emergency medical care may require the consent of both parents. When parents share legal custody, they usually need to reach an agreement on specific terms. Occasionally, a custody order designates one adult as the parent who has the final authority in certain matters.

If there is no such designation and the parents cannot reach an agreement, then the matter may need to go back to family court. It is possible for judges to rule on decision-making conflicts in extreme cases where the child’s safety may be at risk. In such scenarios, it is the best interests of the children, not the rights of the parents, that has the most impact on what a judge decides.

Reviewing a custody order with the assistance of a lawyer can help someone determine what steps to take next after a conflict related to a major decision about their child’s medical care.