MEDICAL DECISION MAKING FOR CHILDREN

Photo of a sick teddy bear with a blue bandage in bed

In New Jersey, most parents end up with joint legal custody of the children. This typically means that the parents have equal decision-making authority with respect to large decisions affecting the children, including medical and educational decisions. However, what if the parents disagree on a medical issue? Who makes the final decision? Your first step is to look at the terms of your final order to determine whether you share joint legal custody of the child or if you or your ex has sole legal custody.

In the event of a medical emergency, the parent with current physical possession of the child will make whatever immediate decisions must be made. This is logical, as in the event of a medical emergency, it is probably vital that decisions be made quickly so that the child can receive immediate treatment. If there is a medical emergency, you will need to contact the other parent to notify him or her. The complications usually arise, however, when there is a non-emergency about which the parents disagree.

If one parent has sole legal custody, then that parent is not required to talk to the other parent about non-emergency medical care or doctor visits ahead of time. The non-custodial parent will probably still have the right to access to the child’s medical records, however.

If the parents have joint legal custody of the child, as is the vastly more common arrangement, New Jersey law requires that the parents consult each other and discuss non-emergency medical decisions before the decision is made. If the parents disagree about non-emergency decisions, such as an elective surgery, vaccinations, or medication, then the parties may need to go to mediation to attempt to reach a settlement out of court. If that fails, a party may have to file a motion with the court to have the judge decide how to proceed. A parent may also request that the court appoint a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem represents the child’s best interest, and will make a recommendation to the court as to what is the best course of action for the child.

If you have questions about who can make the medical decisions in your case, we can help.

Contact us today at (732) 479-4711

We can review your case with you and walk you through the rules about medical decision making and how they apply to you and your children.

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