How decision-making authority affects your child’s medical care

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2023 | Child Custody, Divorce

When parents divorce, they usually focus pretty hard on who gets how much physical time with the children – and they may not realize the significance of the way that “decision-making authority” is divided here in Washington – particularly when it comes to their children’s health.

Decision-making authority is sometimes referred to as “legal” custody in other states, and it basically is a parent’s right to direct everything from the child’s education and religious upbringing to their medical care. Typically, this authority is shared between both parents – and that can lead to conflicts.

What sort of disagreements tend to crop up over a child’s medical care?

Sometimes parents can get wildly out of sync when it comes to their perspectives on modern medicine. Even parents who formerly agreed on things may find that they’re now at odds because one spouse has undergone major religious or ideological changes. Whatever the cause, divorce parents often disagree on things like:

  • Vaccinations: One parent may want their child to have every vaccination possible, while the other may see vaccines as nothing short of poison. 
  • Blood transfusions: Some religions are vehemently opposed to blood transfusions, and that can create huge disputes between parents when one believes they’re forbidden.
  • Diagnostic testing: One parent may see nothing wrong with complying with a school’s request to have their child tested for ADHD or autism, while the other may see that as an unnecessary attempt to force a neurodivergent child to conform.
  • Mental health treatments: One parent may believe their child needs counseling to address anything from gender dysphoria to depression, while the other parent feels like counseling is junk science and the child is just “in a phase.”
  • Surgery: When a child has a condition that could be treated by surgery, it takes both parents’ consent. If one parent wants to try less-invasive methods, first, that could also create conflict.
  • Alternative therapies: Sometimes parents decide they want to try “alternative” medicine, like acupuncture, herbal supplements or Reiki. If the other parent thinks that these are useless or delaying necessary care, that is bound to be a problem.

Ideally, co-parents will work out these issues between them, but that’s not always possible. For example, there’s really no room to compromise over whether or not to allow a blood transfusion. If you believe that your co-parent isn’t acting in your child’s best medical interests, it may be time to seek legal guidance.