Divorced Parents and Children’s Medical Treatment

Daniel Noffsinger - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

One of the most difficult decisions a parent is faced with is determining the medical care and treatment of a sick child. The decision is even more difficult when parents are not in agreement with the appropriate care or treatment of the sick child. There is generally no dispute when a child needs emergency medical care and treatment. Any parent, whether custodial or non- custodial, with or without sole custody or with joint custody, can make emergency medical care and treatment decisions for the child and the other parent has little to no role in making that decision because of the emergency nature of the incident.

Ongoing medical care and treatment decisions for a sick child are more complicated. When parents are in agreement with the medical care and treatment of a sick child everyone is happy – child, parents, doctors and other healthcare professionals - and hopefully the child gets better. When parents disagree on the appropriate course of medical care and treatment, legal intervention is often necessary, even if the custody order contains provisions regarding sole or joint medical care and treatment decision authority.

Look at Your Custody Order

The first step is to review your custody order. Who makes medical decisions? How are disputes resolved? Who has the child? If the custody order provides little clarity, seek the services of a family law attorney. The lawyer can help you understand your rights and counsel you on legal remedies if court intervention is necessary.

Watch out for Religious Exemptions to Medical Treatment

Some parents refuse medical care and treatment for their children on religious grounds. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions and deny such treatment for their children, even if it is life-saving. Remember, even though it feels counter-intuitive, there is no state or federal requirement that a parent or guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against their religious beliefs. In fact, many states take it a step further and provide civil and criminal exemptions to parents who refuse medical care for sick children or preventative or diagnostic measures for children.

Permissible Religious Exemptions in Colorado

Parents are afforded religious exemptions and can deny the following medical services or treatment for their children:

  • Immunizations;
  • Prophylactic eye drops for newborns;
  • Physical examination of school children; andv
  • Excusing students with religious objections from studying about disease in school.

In civil child abuse and neglect proceedings, parents can invoke the religious exemption as a defense to their action in refusing to provide medical care for their sick child. Additionally, in criminal proceedings, parents can invoke the religious exemption as a defense to their action in refusing to provide medical care for their sick child in all misdemeanor actions. Misdemeanor actions are crimes punishable by up to 18 months incarceration in a county or local jail. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-1.3- 505.)

Contact a Colorado Springs Custody Dispute Attorney

If you are involved in a dispute with your former spouse or other parent regarding the medical treatment or preventive care of your children, contact an attorney that specializes in divorce and family law. Many times the custody order does not provide sufficient clarity and court intervention is necessary. Noffsinger Law can help you understand your legal rights during dispute proceedings regarding medical preventative care or treatment of your child. Contact a Colorado Springs child custody dispute attorney today for a free initial consultation. Call us at (719) 368-3688 or visit our office at 545 E. Pikes Peak Avenue, Suite 205 in Colorado Springs.