Parental Rights & Medical Care for Children

The other day I happened upon an advertisement for an upcoming Dr. Phil show. I was so intrigued by the preview that I added it to my line-up, so I could watch it when I got home. The episode was entitled, A Second Schizophrenic Child or a Misdiagnosing Mom: Can Bodhi Be Helped? Apparently, Dr. Phil had seen this family several years prior about a daughter that was having issues and later diagnosed as schizophrenic. This time the mother believed their son was schizophrenic and was trying to find a doctor to diagnose him as such. In addition, the parents had divorced since the first episode. To say they couldn’t stand one another was putting it mildly. The father of the children moved over 1,800 miles away, but still had a genuine concern for his children. The mother had wagged the poor child from doctor to doctor to doctor trying to get someone to diagnose him with schizophrenia. She went so far as to self-medicate him with very strong medication that requires the close watch of a physician including regular bloodwork to check levels and so forth. Now, I am certainly not claiming to know anything about the medical part of this story, but one thing I am an expert on is the parental rights of the father in this story and all other parents finding themselves in similar situations. Admittedly, maybe this situation is on the extreme end of the spectrum, but it is a topic that should be discussed.

Although this father lived 1,800 miles away, he had not abandoned the children, but he was not there for daily decisions like medication and caretaking. The parents shared joint legal custody; therefore, the father was even more validated in wanting to know why and how much medication the child needed. The mother was remarried and the new husband was more than involved in all of this.

So when is a parent required to get permission from the other parent for medical care?

  • Custody and Urgent Treatment

A minor (see our past blog about children reaching the age of majority) cannot give (in most cases) consent for medical care. Joint legal custody lets both parents retain their individual legal authority to make decisions on behalf of minor children. When urgent care is needed (including psychiatric hospitalization), only one parent’s consent is sufficient legal authorization. In most cases, the noncustodial parent may authorize urgent care treatment if they have physical control of the child when care is needed. This brings about four very important terms for all non-married parents.


Legal Custody

A parent’s rights to make major decisions about a child’s welfare, including medical care.

Physical Custody

Who has physical possession of the child at a particular time, such as during visitation?

Sole Legal Custody

Only one parent retains the right to make major decisions for the child.

Joint Legal Custody

Both parents retain the right to make major decisions affecting the child.


  • Nonurgent Treatment

This area gets a bit trickier for doctors. If the doctor provides treatment over a parent’s objection, his or her actions could be considered legally questionable.

I almost forgot to mention that the mom has a YouTube channel that exposes the child to the world in some very vulnerable states. I believe one of the doctors on the show more appropriately called it extorting the child. I have to agree with him, some of the video was quite dehumanizing. The mother says her reason for the videos is to expose the lack of mental healthcare in this country. This leads me to another important area of concern, the father should have a legal right to require that the child be excluded from the video or, at the bare minimum, his face should be burned out. Besides the fact the child is a minor, he clearly is unable to make his own decisions. The courts would frown upon this type of thing and if you find yourself in a situation like this, don’t wait any longer to call Kevin Hickey Law Partners.

If a custodial parent refuses to provide information about the child to the other parent, where the information is important, a non-custodial parent without joint legal custody can bring the matter to the court’s attention with a request to order the custodial parent to provide reasonable information. However, a parent should not file such a motion on their own. It is advisable that a lawyer help you file the proper paperwork. If you find yourself in a situation that you feel you are not receiving information regarding your child, call Kevin Hickey Law Partners today to make sure you are getting the information about your child that you are entitled to know.