Consent, Healthcare and Psychological Services Decision Making for Minors in Divorce & Separation
Why is consent for psychological services for minors such a big deal?
I am Dr. D’Arienzo of D’Arienzo Psychology. I am a forensic and clinical psychologist. I want to share with you about issues of consent for minors regarding healthcare, specifically, psychological services, in divorce and separation cases.
Our practice is presented with children and parents in all types of situations, and our practice manages both forensic and court-ordered services but also clinical-based services. During this discussion, I am speaking specifically about clinical services such as when a parent brings a child or children to our practice voluntarily seeking help for them.
Although one would believe this is a harmless scenario in nature, a parent, no longer in a relationship with the other parent, who brings a child for psychological or educational services, is one of the most potentially challenging situations our practice faces.
Usually, both parents are in agreement when their child needs help, but often there is disagreement about what the child needs. Examples include, only one parent may believe their child has ADHD, a learning difference, or anxiety. Or in other cases, parent A believes they are being alienated from their child by parent B or maybe parent A believes parent B has a drug problem, is abusive and neglectful, or has a psychiatric problem and parent A wants the child to report it to the psychologist or therapist. In these cases, sometimes there is a genuine concern about the child or the other parent, but it many cases. parents bring their children to our practice to bolster their legal case.
When the latter occurs, our desire to serve children becomes rife with challenges, and rather than helping children, our practice has found ourselves in legal disputes despite our best intentions to help a child.
What does the Florida’s Divorce Statute say about parental consent for Psychological Services?
Divorce statutes and parenting plans are not perfect and often leave out important guidance, and parenting situations certainly change where one parent may decompensate or a true latent problem later manifests and parenting plans need modification.
Florida parenting plans must designate who will be responsible for “any and all forms of health care.” – Section 61.13(2)(b)3., Florida Statutes states: “If the court orders shared parental responsibility over health care decisions, the parenting plan must provide that either parent may consent to mental health treatment for the child.” Truthfully, I have never seen this statement in a parenting plan.
Further, if the court does not order shared parental responsibility over health care decisions for a child, the requirement that the parenting plan provide either parent may alone consent to the child’s mental health treatment doesn’t apply. It is rare though that someone without sole parental responsibility or without shared parental responsibility brings a child to our practice with concerns about the other parent.
What are we doing to protect you, us, and your child?
To ensure that every one follows their court order and keep us in the position of helping your child rather than being ensnared by two highly conflicted parents, we have added the following to both the child consent form and the child questionnaire that parents complete before their child is seen at our practice for clinical child non court ordered therapy and counseling cases.
This is what our forms now say as of September 2020:
If the parents/legal guardians are not together, does the other parent/guardian know AND consent to the child receiving the services being requested at D’Arienzo Psychology?
BY MARKING YES ABOVE you attest this to be true and D’Arienzo Psychology and staff will NOT be held liable if this information is determined to be fraudulent.
If parents/legal guardians are NOT together, or if you are NOT the adoptive/biological parent of the child: IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE A COPY OF LEGAL DOCUMENTATION such as a parenting plan or other court order clarifying parent/guardian rights regarding medical/healthcare/psychological decision making and access to the child’s healthcare information. It is solely the client’s responsibility to be transparent about these details and provide said documents.
Unless otherwise marked above, it is assumed that all legal parents/guardians have knowledge of and consent for services and may contact the provider at any time: THE PROVIDER OR D’ARIENZO PSYCHOLOGY, WILL NOT INDEPENDENTLY INITIATE CONTACT with caregivers not in attendance at sessions.
If parents/legal guardians are currently engaged in legal action with one another (e.g., divorce proceedings, custody disputes, parenting plan/child support modifications), you MUST inform the provider at the time of your new client intake appointment. D’Arienzo Psychology providers are NOT held liable for a client’s failure to do so. All records submitted (including intake forms and other documents) and individual meetings with the parents/legal guardians or others will be part of the child’s record and will be released to the requesting party (other parent or legal guardian). Further, please note that if either parent or other family member becomes disruptive and impacts our care of other patients and clients, we reserve the right to terminate services with your family immediately.
I hope this offers some guidance before bringing your child to any mental health professional if you find yourself concerned with your child’s psychological or psychoeducational wellbeing. If your child does need to be seen, the best course of action is to get documentation of the other parent’s consent prior to contacting our office. If you have additional questions, contact us by phone or email, or speak with your attorney.