When raising children with someone, you're bound to have disagreements. Whether it's where to get the best education, how to discipline children, or what religion to teach kids, conflicts are sometimes normal between two parents. But after a divorce, making decisions together can become even more fraught. Even if you were once able to resolve conflicts calmly together at one point, sometimes a divorce can make it challenging to agree easily. So, what happens when you disagree on medical decisions for your child?
Joint Custody in New Jersey
In New Jersey, child custody typically falls into two categories, physical and legal. Physical custody includes where your child lives and resides. Often parents share physical custody and split time with their kids 50/50. Or one parent may have the children during the school year and the other during the summer and other school vacations. How the court divides physical custody often depends on where you live, your job, and where the kids go to school.
Legal custody determines who will make major decisions for your children, including things such as:
- Educational decisions,
- Living decisions,
- Religious education, and
- Medical decisions.
Often parents in New Jersey will share legal custody and make major decisions about their children's lives jointly. But in some cases, your custody agreement will grant one parent the final decision-making over specific topics. For example, if the two of you disagree about religious education, but you are religious, and your spouse isn't, you may have final decisions over your child's religious upbringing. At the same time, your co-parent may have the final say on educational or medical decisions.
In rare cases, one parent will have sole physical and legal custody. This typically only happens if the court finds one parent “unfit.” if, for example, one parent has a history of abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, or child neglect.
Disagreement on Medical Decisions
If you and your co-parent have joint legal custody, in the event of a medical emergency, the parent with the child will make immediate decisions, so your child can receive treatment immediately. But in the case of decisions that aren't immediate, such as vaccinations, elective surgery, or non-urgent treatment decisions, the two of you can make the decision jointly. Under New Jersey law, you must discuss these medical decisions with your co-parent. If you're unable to agree, you may have a couple of options:
- Mediation: A mediator can help you agree out of court.
- Court Intervention: If the two of you still can't agree after mediation, one parent may need to file a motion with the court to have a judge decide the matter. You can also request a guardian ad litem who will represent the child's best interests and make a recommendation to the court.
If your co-parent has full legal custody, they don't have to consult you before making medical decisions for your child. In some cases, you may be able to consult an attorney about modifying your legal custody arrangement.
You Need an Experienced New Jersey Family Lawyer
If you're having difficulty making joint medical decisions for your kids with your co-parent, it may be time to consult an experienced family lawyer. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping New Jersey families resolve custody disputes for years, and they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686, or contact them online to set up a consultation.