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Making Healthcare Decisions for Children of Divorce

healthcare for children of divorce

It is unfortunate that you and your spouse have decided to divorce. In the best-case scenario here, you both will come up with a co-parenting plan to make the best decisions for your child and to make the split as peaceful as possible. That includes decisions on health care. 

Again, the couple who co-parents with the least acrimony will have the best outcome before a judge. Otherwise, the court may be the one deciding the important terms and conditions on issues concerning your children.  

Clearly, you both know your child better than a third party, and you both will want what is best for the child and children. It all depends on whether or not you can work cooperatively on these issues.

Custody Decisions

If the child is older, a judge may ask him which parent he would prefer to live with.  In the child’s best interest, it is better that the parent not ask that question. A professional third party has enough distance to not influence the child’s decision.  

The state recognizes two forms of joint custody – joint legal and joint physical custody. That does not necessarily mean equal physical custody as long as each parent spends the maximum time they can rearing their children after a separation or divorce.

In this situation, both parents have the equal right and responsibility to raise their children. The court may designate the parent who has physical custody as the primary authority responsible for the child’s education, athletic, civic and medical decisions.

All records concerning the above need to be made available to both parents.

There may be an exception. If the child is injured and has to go to the emergency room, the parent who is present may be forced to make an immediate decision on a treatment plan.

Also, if one parent has issues, such as alcohol or drug abuse, that will be taken into consideration in a custody case and joint custody may not be awarded.

The court may appoint one of the parents to have the power to make certain decisions in the best interest of the child, even in a joint custody situation. If either parent is unable or unwilling, the court may determine that a grandparent should take over the child care decisions.

With sole custody, one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make decisions over the child, including health care.

Medical Controversies

There are so many areas of health care that can be controversial.  For example, vaccines. 

If both parents agree, fine, but if one parent does not agree with giving vaccinations or wants them given on a different schedule, for example, spread out over time rather than all at once, who wins that argument?

The primary custodian has a duty to consult with the other parent, particularly in non-emergency settings.

But again, if one parent has sole custody or the co-parenting partners do not agree, a judge may interject his opinion. That may be a chance you do not want to take. It is far better to work out, as best you can, an agreement between partners over the child’s health.

A judge will look more favorably upon any couple if they put their own plan into effect. Otherwise, judges have wide latitude to make decisions when there is no agreement.

In the case of a standoff, the court may order them to participate in a program offered by the Children’s Rights Council or other providers. These nonprofit programs help parents cooperate and increase awareness of the negative affect their behaviors may have on the children. 

Who Should Pay?

And who should pay for the extra cost of a child’s medical care?

The co-parenting plan should spell this out and unless there is a huge disparity in their incomes, the cost of health care may be part of child support or it may be covered under one parent’s health care plan.

If the parents are unable or unwilling to work this out in a parenting plan, the courts may intervene and create a plan.

If there is a repeated pattern of ignoring or violating one parent’s wishes, the other parent may decide to file to amend the co-parenting status and file a legal custody modification.