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Divorced parents often have to work together to determine what is best for their children, especially if they have joint legal custody. However, when a child needs medical treatment and neither co-parent can agree on how to proceed, what should they do?

When co-parenting, both parties can typically resolve minor issues that come up, but when those issues involve medical care, things can get more complicated. For example, one parent may object to vaccination while the other supports it. When these issues arise, it’s important to understand what joint legal custody means.

Who gets to decide?

In Pennsylvania, legal custody refers to “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.” If both parents share legal custody, they must decide together what is in the best interest of their child. If one parent has sole legal custody, he or she can make medical decisions without the input of the other parent.

How can parents resolve a conflict?

Most of the time, if the courts have awarded joint legal custody it is because they assume the parents will be able to work together to resolve conflict surrounding the care of their children. However, if the parents cannot resolve the disagreement, one parent can get a court order, especially if that parent believes that his or her child is in danger. In this case, the court will determine what direction to go regarding medical care.

When possible, it is best to resolve medical care disagreements for the benefit of everyone involved to avoid leaving the decision in the hands of a judge.