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Can I take my child to the doctor if I share joint legal custody with my co-parent?

When you were happily married, you likely didn’t have to worry about taking the kids to the doctor’s office when they weren’t feeling well. Divorce has a way of changing things, though.  

When you’re divorced, however, you most likely will share joint legal and physical custody of your children and have a set parenting plan that helps govern your obligations. Understanding what this means when it comes to your child’s medical care is essential.

How does joint legal custody affect your medical decisions for your child?

Generally speaking, you should review your custody agreement and parenting plan to see what it says about routine medical visits or the occasional unscheduled doctor’s visit for an acute condition. If the plan lays out any rules you must follow (such as contacting your co-parent first), make sure that you adhere to them.

Absent any specific instructions, shared legal custody means that you and your co-parent have equal say when it comes to your child’s medical care. You should discuss medical treatment before a doctor’s visit with your co-parent and make sure that you inform your co-parent of the results as soon as possible. 

You also need to make sure that your co-parent has equal access to your child’s medical records if needed. Plus, your co-parent should be involved in any major health decisions you make (unless you are in an emergency situation where there is no time to do so).

Why is respecting your co-parent’s legal custody rights so important?

Your ability to make medical choices isn’t the same as it was before you and your co-parent split. Failing to respect your co-parent’s equal say in important medical matters could be held against you in future custody decisions.

Sometimes, medical issues become a big point of contention between divorced parents. If you feel like your child’s health is in danger because of your co-parent’s attitudes toward or beliefs about medical care, it may be time to discuss a modification of custody.