Who Makes Medical Decisions for Children After Divorce?
Divorce can be a challenging and emotional process, especially when there are children involved. In addition to complex emotional burdens and legal considerations, separating parents must also address practical matters, such as establishing whom the child will primarily live with and which parent retains the right to make important life decisions for their child’s safety and wellbeing, including healthcare decisions.
In Washington, the question of medical decision-making largely depends on the type of child custody awarded to one or both co-parents during or after divorce. Court-ordered child custody arrangements are taken very seriously in family courts and are governed by specific laws and guidelines to ensure the best interests of the child, making it all the more vital for parents to know and understand their rights and legal obligations under the terms of the current parenting plan.
In this blog, we’ll explore key aspects of medical decision-making for children following a divorce or separation in Washington State.
Child Custody & Medical Power of Attorney
Divorce can be all the more challenging when it comes to making medical decisions for your children. Knowing who holds the medical power of attorney after a Washington divorce is crucial to safeguard the wellbeing of children after a separation. To establish this, we must first understand the types of child custody available in Washington State.
Understanding Legal Custody in Washington
It’s essential to distinguish between physical custody (where the child resides) and legal custody (decision-making authority). Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make important decisions about a child's upbringing, including medical decisions. In Washington, legal custody can be awarded as follows:
Joint legal custody – Joint legal custody means both parents have an equal say in making decisions for their child's health and welfare.
Sole legal custody – Sole legal custody grants one parent the exclusive right to make these decisions, with the other parent potentially having limited input or none at all.
Determining Medical Power of Attorney
Various factors can influence family courts’ decisions concerning the medical power of attorney for children post-divorce, including (but not limited to):
Existing custody agreements – The child custody agreement reached during the divorce proceedings will play a vital role in determining who has the authority to make medical decisions for the child. If joint legal custody is granted, both parents must collaborate and reach mutual agreements on medical choices.
Divorce terms – The terms outlined in the divorce decree or parenting plan may specifically address medical decision-making. It is essential to thoroughly review these documents to understand the roles and responsibilities assigned to each parent.
Employment status – The employment status of each parent can impact their availability to attend medical appointments or handle emergencies. A parent with a more flexible schedule or proximity to medical facilities may be granted more authority in making medical decisions.
Co-parent relationship – The ability of parents to communicate effectively and work together in the best interest of their child is an important factor. Courts may consider the co-parenting relationship when determining medical power of attorney.
Existing medical conditions – If the child has pre-existing medical conditions that require ongoing care, the parent who has historically been the primary caregiver for those needs may be granted more authority in making medical decisions related to those conditions.
Disputes regarding medical decisions for children’s care aren’t limited to the divorce itself, but can arise at any point following the separation. To keep potential conflict to a minimum, it's imperative to seek sound counsel from a qualified Washington attorney with sufficient experience in family law, as they can use their in-depth knowledge to guide your steps with wisdom and integrity throughout the duration of your case to prioritize your child's needs and well-being.
Emergency Medical Situations
In emergency situations where immediate medical attention is required, the parent who is currently with the child will typically have the authority to consent to medical treatment, irrespective of the custody arrangement. This is because the child's health and safety are always the top priority in family courts and court-ordered arrangements. Regardless of official custody terms, it’s important to notify the other parent as soon as possible about the medical situation and any decisions to be made.
Modifying Custody and Decision-Making Arrangements
As children grow and circumstances change, initial custody and decision-making arrangements may need to be modified, including legal custody and medical power of attorney. In Washington, family courts allow for modifications to custody orders if the requesting party can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances and prove that the proposed modification is in the child's best interests.
Skilled Family Lawyers Serving Washington State
With decades of experience in both traditional and complex family law matters, McKinley Irvin’s family lawyers are well-equipped to represent your best interests. Call 206-397-0399 to request a consultation with a family law attorney or visit us online.