Who decides on a child’s medical care when parents divorce?

When parents divorce, they frequently end up with opposing viewpoints about exactly what’s best for their children – but few subjects have become more polarizing in recent years than what sort of medical care children should receive.

Whether it’s a debate about whether vaccines for common illnesses are dangerous, a pre-teen should be permitted to have gender-affirming medical care or not or medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and child depression are necessary, divorced parents frequently find themselves on opposite sides of the subject – and there is no such thing as an acceptable middle ground over issues like these.

Who gets to make the call? It depends entirely upon who has custody.

Legal custody gives parents the decision-making authority they need

When most people hear the term “custody,” they think of physical custody – and they often assume that whichever parent has primary physical custody of a child also has the ability to make all major decisions about a child’s life, including their medical care.

However, this isn’t true. Legal custody is what grants a parent the right to direct major decisions about a child’s well-being. Legal custody can be jointly held even when one parent has the children in their care 80% (or more) of the time. When parents share legal custody, major medical decisions – including whether a child should be vaccinated or not – have to be made together. Only when legal custody is granted solely to one parent can that parent make unilateral decisions about a child’s health care.

Unfortunately, a dispute with your co-parent over your child’s medical care is not easy to resolve. If you feel like you need to seek legal custody to protect your child’s health, the wisest move you can make is to seek early guidance that’s tailored to you