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Balancing Joint Custody & Medical Decisions


If you require legal guidance or representation, turn to the child custody lawyers at The Arnold Law Group, APC. Our legal team has over 30 years of collective legal experience and a comprehensive understanding of the laws and regulations that encompass the field of family law. Contact us today.

In California, “joint legal custody” means that both parents have a say in any decisions relating to their child’s health, education, and general welfare. However, many parents believe they naturally have this authority even if they were only awarded “physical custody.” As the term implies, physical custody relates to a child’s practical living situation. While this parent has a legal right to their child’s time, they don’t necessarily have any input when it comes to medical decisions.

But what happens when parents with joint legal custody disagree on their child’s medical care options?

Joint Custody Means Making Medical Decisions Together

Choices have to be made–and made quickly–in an emergency situation. But you and your ex do need to discuss and even compromise when it comes to annual checkups, medications, medical care providers, and general medical care choices. For example, if your child contracts a serious illness or disease, you can’t start making choices without consulting your ex. When it comes to joint legal custody, both parents need to be 100% involved in the decision-making process.

Communicating with your ex can be a difficult and frustrating activity, especially when your child is sick or requires a serious medical procedure. Even so, you can’t weaponize your child just to contradict your ex’s choices. For example, let’s say your child has an accident and needs a special surgery. Your ex talks to the doctor and schedules the procedure without discussing it with you first, presuming that you would be on board. Caught out of the loop, you understandably want to discuss the surgery with the doctor yourself, and maybe explore alternative options or second opinions. This is absolutely understandable and within your legal right, but it could naturally lead to friction with your ex. Co-parents often find themselves in heated arguments when they believe the other is overstepping their rights or being purposefully antagonistic as a point.

What you both need to remember is that your child is your top priority. By discussing the situation with a level head, you can arrange a joint phone conference with the surgeon to alleviate your concern and keep your ex involved. If you two keep fighting about your child’s health care options, you may find yourself back in court and waiting for a judge’s final determination. In a worst-case scenario, your ex may use this opportunity to file an emergency application and request full legal custody because you’re delaying your child’s surgery. While you and your ex duke it out, your child isn’t able to have that surgery they need. In this circumstance, your best option is to think of your child’s health and make compromises with your ex. The only exception, of course, is if you truly believe your ex’s choices are actively harming your child. For instance, if your ex’s religious or personal beliefs reject life-saving prescriptions or surgical procedures, you should absolutely seek legal guidance on behalf of your child.

Follow these steps to establish an amicable co-parenting relationship with your ex:

  • Keep your ex updated on doctors appointments and checkup results.
  • Allow your ex to be present for important doctor appointments.
  • Talk to your ex about downloading a co-parenting app so that you can share updates and stay on the same schedule.
  • Outside of an emergency situation, don’t make any important medical decisions without your ex
  • If there is an emergency situation, contact your ex as soon as possible
  • Alternatively, don’t react negatively if your ex makes an emergency health care decision for your child
  • Schedule monthly phone calls or coffee meetings to discuss your child’s health care and general needs

You can’t control another person’s behavior. You can follow these steps and still find yourself left in the dark when your child is in your ex’s care. The best thing you can do in this circumstance is calmly discuss your feelings with your ex and try to establish common ground so that you’re both kept in the loop. However, if your ex keeps denying your legal custody rights, contact the Fresno child custody attorneys at The Arnold Law Group, APC.

Fight for your child’s best interests. Call The Arnold Law Group, APC at (559) 900-1263 to schedule a consultation.

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