Coparenting and Medical Emergencies

Posted on Mar 21, 2022 by Katie Carter

Kids get hurt sometimes, despite our best efforts to keep them safe. When I was a kid, my younger sister once knocked out her front teeth at school in a game of crab soccer. Another time, she fell while climbing over our fence to get a ball for the dog, and needed a ton of stitches to fix a gash in her leg. My brother once fell out of a tree.

In my own experience as a mom, I’ve had a few of those events as well. It doesn’t take much – a little fall from a bunk bed, trampoline, bike, roller skates, or skateboard – and you find yourself in the emergency room.

In the middle of an emergency, there’s not much time for phone calls. You’re dealing with a hurt, scared, kid, and, depending on the severity of the emergency, timing can be of the essence. It’s not like you have too much time to strategize, you’re just trying to deal with the immediate crisis at hand.

When you’re dealing with a coparenting situation, though, things can be a little extra tense. Having an injured, scared kid is bad enough – who wants their annoying ex hanging around, complicating matters, and not helping? But, in most cases, you probably should involve the child’s other parent to the greatest degree that you are able, considering the circumstances. You’ll definitely want to consider what you’d want, if the shoe was on the other foot, too.

I’m not saying that you need to call your child’s father immediately. Like anything else, all emergencies are going to be a little bit different, and present some different challenges. You will need to use your best judgment in this type of situation, the same as in every other situation involving your child(ren). There are – as you are probably well aware – no rule books.

But it’s also probably not reasonable to only call your child’s father AFTER the child gets out of the hospital or urgent care setting to say, “oh, by the way, it’s fine now, but your son had emergency surgery three days ago.”

Joint legal custody – assuming that’s what you have, because most families do – means that both parents are involved in decision making for religious upbringing, education, and non emergency medical care. Non emergency medical care basically distinguishes between things like vaccinations, which is a decision you can make jointly, and setting a broken leg, which is not really so much a decision.

It’s not that you have to tell your child’s father because he has decision making authority; in my experience, in an emergency situation, there’s not a lot of decisions to be made. That broken leg needs to be set, that gash needs to be stitched, or whatever – you’re more or less just nodding and following the advice of medical professionals.

It’s more than just decision making, though. Just because there’s no decision to be made doesn’t mean that you don’t need to let your child’s father know that something has happened. Most separation agreements and court orders require you to keep each other apprised of this sort of thing. The language of the specific provisions might differ, but, in general, you should at least keep each other informed, especially if you would expect that he’d let you know if an accident occurred during his parenting time.

It’s definitely challenging to navigate these situations with a coparent, and so tempting to just forget to call. But that could cause you to wind up in some hot water, especially if he raises the issue to the court. It doesn’t make it look like you’re a very dedicated coparent if you don’t even let your child’s father know that the child is in the hospital. Would you lose custody over it? It’s so hard to say. All custody decisions are based on the ‘best interests of the child’ and can vary dramatically from case to case depending on the specific circumstances.

The court will look at your pattern of behavior (and his, too, obviously). In general, one of the biggest reasons I see for a change in custody (or a reduction in parenting time) is that one coparent is less willing to work with the other. If you have one parent who communicates and involves the other, and another parent who refuses to collaborate or communicate, it’s sort of a no brainer to give the better communicator more time, since that’s the choice that will result in both parents having access to the child.

An injured or sick child is stressful, there’s no question. And it’s probably considerably worse when you have your ex around. But not involving him is risky, too.

My advice? At least communicate. Treat him the way you’d want him to treat you if the accident happened during his parenting time.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.