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While some parents have no problem with getting therapy for their children, such as therapy and/or medication, other parents have concerns. This has led some parents to wonder, do parents have a legal obligation to get mental health help for their children? Like most things in family law, the answer to the question is complicated, and it will likely depend on where you live. 

What Is Medical Neglect? 

Most people are pretty familiar with the symptoms of neglect. Medical neglect specifically refers to a situation where a caregiver does not provide adequate medical care to children. For example, if a child needs emergency medical attention, and the caregiver fails to call for help or transport the child to the emergency room, that could be an example of medical neglect. (This would also apply to live-saving medical treatment, such as a blood transfusion) However, medical neglect can also take place over a long period of time. If a child has obvious symptoms of an illness, and the caregivers fail to seek medical attention, that may also fall under medical neglect. Parents and caregivers are generally responsible for providing children with adequate medical care, and failure to do so may be considered neglect. Unaddressed mental health issues could be considered to be medical neglect, but when it comes to mental health, it’s not so straight-forward. 

What Rights Do Parents Have? 

While parents would likely have a difficult time preventing their children from having a life-saving operation, parents do generally have a lot of say in medical procedures, especially concerning elective procedures. For example, while braces can prevent dental issues in the long run, they’re not necessary and, under normal circumstances, parents probably would not be legally required to get their children braces. Whether or not a parent would be required to get their child mental health care would depend greatly upon the circumstances. While many people would benefit from therapy, not everyone needs therapy in order to protect themselves from harm. 

When Parents Don’t Agree 

A lot of people have a lot of different attitudes and beliefs about therapy. While some parents don’t see anything wrong with getting their child therapy, other parents have concerns. If you and your ex are divorced, and you don’t agree on whether or not your child should attend therapy, you may need to look to your divorce decree for answers. Some divorce decrees have a “final say” provision that gives one parent, usually the one with the most custody, the ability to make the final decision. If your divorce decree does not provide answers regarding which parent would have the ability to make such decisions, you may have to take the issue to court if you cannot come to an agreement without third-party intervention. When it comes to whether or not a child receives medical treatment, the courts will look at the specific facts of the case and determine whether or not it’s in the child’s best interest to receive such treatment. 

When Children Are a Danger to Themselves 

While parents generally have the right to choose whether or not their children get certain medical treatments, the state may step in when there’s ample reason to believe that a child is a danger to themselves or others. For example, if a child has a long history of failed suicide attempts and is displaying obvious signs of suicidal ideation, the state may be able to hospitalize the child, even against the parents’ will. If your child is showing signs that they may be considering ending their own lives, getting them evaluated by a mental health professional may be the best thing you can do to help your child get the mental health care they need. 

Additional Liability 

If there are signs that your child poses a danger to others, and you do not take reasonable precautions in order to prevent such an occurrence, you may be civilly liable for any damage your child does cause. Additionally, you may face criminal charges if your actions are particularly neglectful or egregious. Reasonable precautions would likely include ensuring your child does not have access to weapons or other harmful substances, getting them evaluated by a professional, and monitoring their activities. As with children who are a danger to themselves, the state may be able to step in and hospitalize your child if the child is considered to be a danger to other children. 

Got Questions? We’ve Got Answers 

If you’ve got question about family law matters, and you need advice from a professional, CoilLaw is here for you. Contact us today to set up your initial consultation. 


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