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Who Determines Children’s Vaccinations and Treatment?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

When parents can't agree, child custody lawyers often step in

Making medical decisions for a child is a parental responsibility. Pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13(2), parental responsibility should be shared by both parents unless shared parental responsibility is determined to be detrimental to the child. Florida Statute 61.046(17) defines shared parental responsibility as "a court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly."

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When it comes to medical decisions like whether a child will be vaccinated or whether a child will be prescribed a certain medication, parents are supposed to make a decision together, even if they are no longer a couple. Florida Statute 61.13(2) requires that parents submit a parenting plan which spells out who is responsible for healthcare decisions. This requirement provides a useful opportunity for parents to discuss healthcare decisions in advance, before an emergency arises.

Disagreements frequently arise

Unfortunately, situations do arise when well-meaning parents have diametrically opposed opinions regarding a healthcare decision. For example, one parent is convinced that a child suffers from ADHD and requires a prescription for this condition. The other parent is vigorously opposed to this course of treatment due to religious, ethical or other reasons. If the parents are unable to reach agreement, they may choose to litigate. The parent seeking (or opposing) treatment would need to plead in court that shared parental responsibility regarding healthcare decisions is detrimental to the child. The parent could also request that the court grant ultimate decision-making authority to one parent. If the parents are in the process of divorce, the request for ultimate decision-making authority regarding medical decisions would be part of the petition for dissolution of marriage. If the parents are already divorced, or were never married, the parents would likely need to have an a Coral Springs child custody attorney work on their behalf to file a supplemental petition for modification or initiate an action specifically to establish parental responsibility and decision-making rights.

Detriment to the child must be proven

A parent seeking the ultimate right to make medical decisions must prove that detriment to the child will occur if shared parental responsibility continues. The court may order that a guardian ad litem become involved to investigate allegations affecting the child. The role of the guardian ad litem is discussed in Florida Statute 61.403. A guardian ad litem is appointed to advance the best interest of the child. This person may interview the child and any other person having information concerning the child’s welfare. The guardian ad litem may inspect the child’s medical records and any other records relevant to the child's welfare. He or she may even request expert examinations of the child and the child's parents by medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals. The court often orders that the fees and costs of the guardian ad litem are borne by both parents.

Parents seeking ultimate decision-making authority regarding a child's healthcare should be prepared with facts and credible evidence. They should also be prepared to cooperate fully with the guardian ad litem if one is appointed. The court's primary consideration when considering which parent will make medical decisions will be the child's best interest, as dictated by the laws governing Coral Springs and Parkland.

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