Child custody in California is indeed split into categories, but the
only categories recognized by the law are "legal" custody and
"physical" custody. What you appear to be referencing is a common
practice of referring, by verbal shorthand, to a portion of a judge's
order -- for example, when a judge's order grants one parent the right
to make final medical decisions, calling that "medical custody." But
that is not a formal category of custody recognized by the law. See
California Family Code Section 3085, distinguishing physical from
California does not, however, limit family-court judges to those
strict categories in fashioning their orders. A judge can essentially
make any order that he believes is in the best interests of the child.
The judge can grant joint legal and physical custody, for example, or
grant joint legal custody and physical custody to only one parent, or
grant joint legal custody, primary physical custody to one parent, and
the power to make medical decisions to the other parent.
In _Cassady v. Signorelli_ (1996) 49 Cal.App.4th 55, the parents had
joint legal custody and the mother had primary physical custody. The
father, however, had the right to make final decisions on medical care
when the parents could not agree.
This kind of order-splitting is authorized under Family Code Section 3083:
"In making an order of joint legal custody, the court shall specify
the circumstances under which the consent of both parents is required
to be obtained in order to exercise legal control of the child and the
consequences of the failure to obtain mutual consent. In all other
circumstances, either parent acting alone may exercise legal control
of the child."
So the Court may issue an order saying that the parents should try to
agree on medical decisions, but if they can't agree, then only one
parent gets the final say. On all other issues, either parent alone
can make final decisions.
So the bottom-line answer to your question is -- It depends on what,
exactly, the court ordered. There is no bright-line definition of
"Medical Custody" in California that answers those issues. It's up to
the judge in each case.
With one exception -- both parents will be entitled to access the
medical records and information, pursuant to Family Code Section 3025,
unless the Court specifically orders otherwise for good cause:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, access to records and
information pertaining to a minor child, including, but not limited
to, medical, dental, and school records, shall not be denied to a
parent because that parent is not the child's custodial parent."
Hope this was helpful. I haven't included links to the information
because it's a fee-for-service database of California cases; but you
can find California codes online at http://www.findlaw.com.
Clarification of Answer by
27 Jul 2005 14:11 PDT
Thanks for the clarification request! To provide a knowledgeable
answer, I'll need more information about the order. Does the order
specifically grant to one parent the right to make all medical
decisions? Is that in the context of the grant of full physical
custody to one parent? Does the order say anything about child
support and what it should be used for?
Here is the Code definition of "joint legal custody" and "sole physical custody:"
"'Joint legal custody' means that both parents shall share the right
and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health,
education, and welfare of a child." (Fam. Code, Sec. 3003.)
"'Sole physical custody' means that a child shall reside with and be
under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court
to order visitation." (Fam. Code, § 3007.)
So in the ordinary course, if the parents have joint legal custody,
then BOTH parents have the right and responsibility to make
health-care decisions. But it sounds like your custody order
specifies that one parent has the sole right to make those decisions,
which as I said above is perfectly legal for the Court to order. If
that parent is the parent with physical custody, then I would
certainly expect that matters such as appointments would be that
Payment is a little trickier. Both parents have the obligation, at
the outset, to provide for their child's welfare, including paying for
necessary medical care. But if there is a support order -- which,
given physical custody in one parent, there probably is -- then a
strong argument can be made that the support payment should completely
discharge the non-custodial parent's financial obligation to the
child. That's why the language of the support order is important.
I'm more than happy to provide any further clarification you may need,
based on the language of the court order. Thanks!