Who Makes Healthcare Decisions for Children of Divorce?
You’ve decided to get a divorce and you have children. Ideally, the husband and wife share the children and make parental decisions in the best interest of those children. Unfortunately, it does not always work out that way.
The court will require the parents to agree on a child custody plan which includes some coordination and agreement on how you will parent. This includes agreement in the area of housing, friends, education, religion, travel and sports, among other concerns. Healthcare can be particularly sticky point for parents who do not agree on how to co-parent.
Custody of the Child
The first question is who will have majority parenting time for the minor child or children. In some limited cases, the judge will award one parent sole legal custody of that child. That means the custodial parent also has legal custody and does not have to consult the other about parenting decisions, such as medical issues.
Again, the judge has made the determination that the sole custodian has the best interest of the child at heart. In some instances, the judge may consult with the child as to which parent he would prefer to live with. He may not even ask that question in front of the parents, depending on the child’s age.
Most of the time, however, divorcing adults in Florida are co-parenting and expected to jointly make the best decision about medical care of their children. Generally, the parent who the child lives with is going to be considered the primary custodian.
Because they are co-parenting, the parent with majority parenting time has a duty to consult with the other parent, particularly when the medical care is of a non-emergency nature. This would not generally apply to an emergency situation when one parent must make a quick medical decision.
Disagreement About Medical Treatment
As you can imagine, there is not always agreement about medical treatment for a minor child. Should he have vaccines as they are scheduled or seek an alternative vaccine schedule? What medication, if any, should a child be put on if he/she displays hyperactivity and is disrupting the classroom? If there is some question about how the child is learning because he is falling behind in school, should he go through a battery of cognitive tests? Should a child undergo surgery if one doctor recommends that course of treatment?
And who should pay for the extra cost of a child’s medical care? Both parents may be required to share the costs unless there is a huge disparity in their incomes. The costs may be considered as part of child support and the child may fall under one parent’s healthcare plan.
All of these are common questions that occur concerning children’s health, even when the parents are still together, and certainly they can cause havoc to an already stressful divorce situation.
If there is a repeated pattern of ignoring or violating one parent’s wishes, that individual may decide to file to amend the co-parenting status and file a legal custody modification.
While it is always better for both parents to work together and collaborate over the child’s health, this may not be possible. This is when the judge gets involved and family court may have to appoint an independent guardian ad litem to study the situation and determine what is in the child’s best interest. The guardian then makes a recommendation to a judge.
If you are dealing with conflict over your child’s medical decisions, we would like to discuss your next step in protecting the child’s best interests.
Crystal Collins Spencer has been an advocate for children and families during her career in family law. She can work closely with you to develop a practical plan and ultimately a course of action that works for you and your child.
You may need her to advocate your concerns before the judge, and Ms. Spencer is highly regarded in Florida child custody cases. She is sensitive to the needs children and will consider their welfare in any decision to help ensure that the outcome is the one that is best for the child.
Please contact our offices in Pensacola, Destin, Fort Walton Beach & Panama City today for further assistance.
The Florida Bar on Divorce