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Is interfering with medical treatment grounds for a custody change?

Child custody goes to the heart of a divorce involving children. Each parent may want custody, or at least joint custody. The children will most likely have to live with one parent during the school year. They should not switch schools. The other parent will receive visitation on weekends, school holidays and breaks, and in the summer. A problem that always comes up with custody and visitation is medical treatment. The mother has primary custody. One or more of the children are taking medications. That child goes to visit with the father over Christmas. Mom wants to make sure Dad gives the child the correct medication. What happens if Dad thinks the medicine is unnecessary and interferes with the ongoing treatment? What happens if the opposite occurs? The child becomes sick while with Dad. The child receives medical treatment and medication. When the child returns home, Mom discontinues the medicine because she believes Dad should have never sought medical treatment in the first place. There are almost an unlimited amount of scenarios involving medical treatment, divorced parents, and change of custody. Interfering with medical treatment can be grounds for custody change but it is not an open and shut case.


The terms of the custody order are important is answering this question. They are vital in determining what exactly is “interfering.” What one party may consider improper involvement, the other side may treat as their right under the order. A person with full custody normally has the right to approve or disapprove medical treatment. The non-custodial parent in general must follow the medical treatment including dispensing medication during visitation. This is true even if they did not know of the treatment until visitation started. If the parent does not do this during visitation, this could well be the basis for a motion in the case to terminate or reduce visitation.

An exception occurs when the child is visiting with the non-custodial parent and needs emergency treatment. An example would be involvement in an automobile accident, an injury during a sports activity, or any other type of injury that requires immediate medical attention. The non-custodial parent needs to notify the custodial parent, but treatment can happen without their approval. A custodial parent who refuses to give consent risks losing custody, depending upon the facts and how critical it was to seek emergency medical treatment.

A custody order that grants joint custody gives the non-custodial parent more say in medical treatment decisions. However, the ultimate decision for medical treatment is always going to be made by the person with physical custody at the time. That decision can always be reviewed by a court and can serve as the basis for a change in custody. It can also serve as the reason to modify a court order, such as reducing visitation or increasing visitation.


This can be a point of contention. You can envision two parents arguing in the emergency room as to whether or not the cut in their child’s leg needs stitches. One party may say yes, and the other party who is under court order to pay all medical bills may see it as an unnecessary expense. Like all other matters that lead to seemingly endless disputes, the issue of whether or not it is serious enough to lead to a change of custody is always a concern. Most emergency rooms will make a decision as to whether or not medical treatment is being abused. In addition, if treatment is not warranted, an insurance company will not pay. The issues tend to get sorted out without resort to a court hearing. It would take a egregious case to justify a change of custody. An example would be a parent interfering in treatment of a broken arm.


This is an area that leads to probably the greatest area of conflict. An example would be psychiatric treatment. One parent may feel strongly that the child’s poor grades in school indicate a problem that needs psychiatric care. The other party may feel like the poor grades are the fault of the other parent not providing proper support for school work. This can provide a fertile ground for parental interference in medical treatment. It is hard to say who would win. The result would depend upon the expert testimony of the treating psychiatrist, the school teacher, and anyone else who could explain what the right course of action would be.

This is a prime area for interference to result in a change in custody. It all depends on who is right and who is wrong. The more precise answer is who can prove their case better for a Judge to make an informed decision.


Two parents who live together will not always agree on what is proper ongoing medical treatment. They may disagree about medications and their side effects. It should be no surprise that separated and divorced parents have the same disagreements, only magnified by their other legal differences. Both parties need to be sure they have a sound legal basis for any interference before they take any action.

Just remember that the burden of proving change of custody lies with the person seeking the change. Interference with medical treatment is grounds to change custody but like all other grounds, the moving party has to prove their case. The above are just some examples of the issues and problems in area of child rearing.

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