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,

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.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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