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Joint Custody: What To Do When You Disagree on Medical Care


People sometimes say that differences make the world go round. Differences, however, can be bad news for couples who are divorced, especially when they have children. If parents have joint custody, then they will both have the right to make decisions about their children. This isn’t easy for parents who don’t see eye to eye.

While most issues can be resolved through co-parenting, when situations arise about a child’s medical care, parents might have a hard time coming to an agreement. This is common in situations involving vaccinations, surgeries, and mental health issues that might require medication. Whatever the situation is, parents need to remember what is in the best interest of their child.

Who Can Make Decisions About Medical Care

Under Iowa Code section 598.1(5), “custody” or “legal custody” means the rights and responsibilities parents have towards their children. Custody can be sole or joint.

  • Sole Custody: One parent has legal custodial rights and responsibilities of the child

  • Joint custody: Both parents have legal custodial rights and responsibilities of the child

If parents have sole custody, they can both make decisions regarding the child’s rights and responsibilities, which include making decisions about the child's legal status, medical care, education, safety, extracurricular activities, religious instruction, and other major life decisions. This means that if the parents are sharing custody, they are both legally able to make decisions about the child’s medical care.

How to Come to an Agreement When You Disagree

Medical decisions have the potential to impact a child’s life in a major way, which makes it difficult to discuss with a former partner. However, it’s important for the child’s well-being that they work together to make these hard decisions.

Talk Things Out Maturely

If you're able to hold a conversation with your ex in a mature manner, try that route first. Speak to talk to your ex in a calm and rational way, and explain your viewpoint as far as medical care goes. Be sure to bring credible information with statistics for why you think your option is the most beneficial for your child. Also, make sure you discuss his or her viewpoint as well. This way, you can look at all of your options.


To make co-parenting work, separated couples will have to learn to compromise. Try to meet each other halfway, if at all possible. Discuss the pros and cons of both of your opinions, and make a point to figure out which approach is optimal for your kids and their well-being in general. Don't forget that nothing matters more than doing right by your children.

Ask A Doctor

If you cannot come to an agreement, you can seek help from a doctor. A medical profession cannot make the decision for you, but they can give you more information about what will help your child out the most. Doctors know more about the benefits and risks associated with medical care, making them an invaluable resource when it comes to disagreeing on how to treat your child.

Get a Court Order

You and your ex should make every effort to make the decision yourself. However, sometimes, this is not always possible. If you believe your child’s well-being is in danger, a court order might be needed. Remember, a court will make a decision based on the best interest of the child. This means that regardless of what you or your ex want to do about your child’s medical decision, the court will have the final decision. A court order will ensure your child’s safety is the number one priority.

Seek Feedback From a Qualified Legal Professional

How to handle medical treatments can be a source of huge debate for divorced parents. If you cannot come to a decision regarding medical care for your child, an attorney can help. Our firm is knowledgeable in Iowa’s child custody laws and how they can affect your case. The better you understand your case, the easier it will be for you to make wise and informed decisions for you and your family. At Hope Law Firm, we are dedicated to ensuring your family’s rights are protected.

Call Hope Law Firm at (515) 305-2772 for help with your child custody issues.