In law, there is a concept called parens patriae, whereby the government (via the court) takes parental responsibility for children if the court feels the best interest of the child is not being looked after.  A recent case in Ocean County (NJ) demonstrates this concept.

In M.T. v. D.T., Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones had to decide which medical treatment MT and DT’s son would receive.  Their son, over which the parents had joint custody, had a sports injury and the parents could not agree on which treatment or which doctor to use.  The judge wrote, “When presented with a choice between parents’ rights and children’s rights, the choice is and must be the children’s welfare and best interests.”  Legal custody refers to the party responsible for making decisions on behalf of a minor child.

The judge granted the father custody for purposes of making medical decisions, largely because the child lives primarily with the father, who would also be looking after the son’s recovery.  He made his decision after holding a hearing with both doctors and decided that the medical decision came down to professional opinion. The judge further wrote:

When divorced parents cannot otherwise agree, and when a surgeon is performing surgery on a child, the surgeon logically needs to obtain parental authorization and direction from a designated representative in a clear, unambiguous, and consistent manner. In this case, same is not likely to happen unless the court designates one parent as the child’s temporary medical custodian…for the limited purpose of securing treatment for this particular injury.

Despite the ruling, both parents maintain joint custody for all other aspects of parenting their child.  The medical custodian was also required to keep the wife informed of any appointments and treatments and 10-day written notice of any surgery.

The takeaway here is that no matter the circumstances, the court will not allow the disagreement of parents to harm the child(ren).  I don’t know if the judge thought of trying to have the parties mediate the dispute.  It doesn’t seem like their positions are mutually exclusive.  Perhaps this could have been worked out more informally.

HT: NJ Law Journal