How can I make sure I'm notified of all medical decisions?
Many factors will depend on whether you have the legal right to be notified or involved in medical decisions regarding your child. You might already have these rights, but perhaps they are not being enforced. You might also be seeking to be granted these rights.
Factors in Medical Decisions
• Who is the custodial parent?
• Do you have legal custody?
• Does your ex have sole custody?
• Do you share joint custody?
• What does your custody order say about medical decisions?
It will also depend if you are seeking notification or the right to be part of medical decisions for your child or children. They sound similar, but they are different. The latter places you actively in medical decisions, care, and allows you, in non-emergency situations, to deny treatments and suggest alternatives. The other simply means the other parent has to inform you that medical treatments have or will occur. When speaking with a lawyer, judge, or court appointed mediator, be sure to state your intentions clearly.
Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody
A judge awards either sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both parents (one parent being granted physical custody and both receiving shared legal custody). You have parental rights in both cases, but if you have joint custody and legal custody, the court already expects you to be actively involved in your child’s medical decisions as well as other important aspects of their lives.
It is not to say that you cannot receive medical notifications if your ex has sole custody, but depending on the state, the case, and your judge, your ex might be granted full discretion on whether and when to inform you. You will need to provide evidence or prove why you should receive the right to involvement in medical decision. A judge can still deny you.
Reaching a Custody Agreement
If you are still in the process of reaching a custody agreement, you should understand the different terms and how they will apply to a custody order. This is especially helpful if you do not have a lawyer or you are using a court mediator to reach an arrangement. This option varies between states and a judge must approve it before a custody order is legally binding.
Some parents will forgo courts altogether with child custody arrangements. The parents reach a decision among themselves for visitation, rights, and often child support. There are pros and cons to this type of arrangement. The largest downside is lack of legal recourse should one party violate the agreement, such as failure to pay child support or refuses to involve a parent in decisions, and it’s possible the arrangements made will not be in the best interest of the child.
When parents cannot agree to terms or in states that do not use mediators, a judge will hear arguments from both parents and often will speak with the children. The judge’s responsibility is to make decisions based on the welfare and interests of the child, not appease a parent. While you or your ex might disagree with a decision (and you will both have recourse through an appeal or amendment), understand that the child should and will always come first. If a judge decides the entirety of the custody order, you should seek legal representation throughout the proceedings.
When a Parent Violates a Custody Order
If you share joint custody and your ex fails to notify you, they are ignoring a court order and likely in contempt of court. They can face fines in addition to losing custody. You need to alert the court and go before the judge. Providing proof to the judge is best, but if you cannot access your child’s medical records, keep track of dates.
Whether you are working with a mediator, your ex, or in court to determine a custody order, you should ask for medical decisions to be included in the wording. Understand that medical notification or penalties will unlikely be enforced in cases of emergency. This includes fines your ex might otherwise face. When the welfare of a child is at risk, the child’s care comes first.
A judge or mediator might ask why you want to be involved in your child’s medical care and decisions in some cases. Be honest about your reasons, but understand a court might not grant your wishes if it deems it not in the best interest of the child.
Should a court not grant you notification of medical decision, you can ask your ex for the courtesy of involving you. Not all custody battles and divorces are ugly. While this verbal agreement is up to his or her discretion and not enforceable by the court, it is an option if you have a good relationship with your ex. The worst they can do is say no. However, you should document their decision. It might prove helpful should you choose to modify a custody decision later.