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Decisions regarding a child’s medical and health care are often the most important decisions parents must make. Therefore, it is essential for there to be a mechanism in place to determine what course of action to take in the event the parents disagree on this important issue. A parent who has final decision making authority regarding healthcare and medical decisions will be able to determine things such as when and where the child will obtain medical treatment, including physiological treatment and counseling, what medical or surgical procedures the child will undergo, and what medications the child will take, like whether the child will take prescription medications to help cope with issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or whether a child will take generic or name brand asthma medication. These decisions often include decisions as seemingly minor as whether the child may wear glasses or contacts, to major decisions, like whether a child will receive braces or undergo major surgery. Although it is best for parents to agree on decisions such as these, a court’s order regarding final decision making authority will control in the event of a disagreement.
Practice Pointer - Limits on medical decision making
Sometimes a parent may have specific concerns about decision making authority that can best be handled by providing limits to that authority. For example, in relation to medical decision making, the parties could agree that a current course of treatment must continue, etc. to limit concerns about granting the other party final decision which they would then use to terminate that course of treatment.
Decisions like the ones specifically mentioned above are often reached after much deliberation and are usually not made as a result of an emergency situation. However in the event that an emergency occurs which effects the child’s health or safety while that child is in the care or custody of the parent who does not have final decision making authority concerning healthcare, that parent is authorized to seek emergency treatment for the child. For example, if while in the care of her father, and young girl is seriously injured after falling from a tree that she had climbed, the father would be authorized to seek immediate healthcare for the young girl, even if did not have final decision making authority concerning his daughter’s healthcare. It is important for parents faced with this situation to of course protect the wellbeing of their child, but to also use discretion and common sense to ensure that he or she is not taking action that would violate the court’s order concerning custody.
Although a parent may feel as if he or she is operating with the child’s best interest at heart, it is important for parents to note that if they have not been awarded final decision making authority concerning their child’s healthcare, any healthcare or medical decisions made regarding the child that conflict or contradict the wishes of the parent who has been awarded final authority regarding this issue may be found to violate the court’s order concerning legal custody and punishable as contempt. See Avren v. Garten, S11A0064 (2011). However, if a parent is concerned that the parent awarded final decision making authority concerning their child’s healthcare is operating against the best interests of the child, that parent may petition for a modification of child custody. To learn more about child custody modification, the procedure to modify child custody and what must be shown before custody may be modified, see our articles concerning child custody modification in Georgia.