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Child Custody and Mental Health Services for Children

Mental health services for children often depend on parental agreement, even if parents are not (or never have been) married


Many times, psychologists and therapists offer mental health services to children from never married, separated, or divorced families.  At Hope Springs, we will ask about custody issues. There are several reasons for this, and they have to do with patient ethics, as well as what is best for your and your child.

Here are some of our policies, as well as some of the reasons behind these decisions

In order to authorize mental health treatment for your child, you must have either sole or joint legal custody of your child

If you are separated or divorced from the other parent of your child, please notify us immediately.  We may ask you to provide us with a copy of the most recent custody decree that establishes custody rights.

If you are separated or divorced from the child’s other parent, please be aware that it is our policy to notify the other parent that we are meeting with your child

We believe it is important that all parents have the right to know, unless there are truly exceptional circumstances, that their child is receiving mental health evaluation or treatment.

Why does Hope Springs have these policies?

It is our job to provide the best care that we can for your child.  One risk of child therapy involves disagreement among parents and/or disagreement between parents and the therapist regarding the child’s care. Research has found that it is not healthy for children to be placed in the middle of conflict.   If parents cannot agree about your child’s mental healthcare, it is quite likely that your child will not get better.  It is often best for both parents to be informed and involved for your child to have the best benefit from mental health services.

Second, if a parent has shared legal custody, legally, that parent can decide that services should end.  We always hope that this would happen in a safe and healthy way.  If both parents are involved and aware of your child’s services, it is less likely for services to end before your child is ready or before your child’s care has been completed.

What does child custody involve?

Please note that we are not attorneys and this information is not a substitute for legal advice.  However, it provides an introduction to these terms, many of which parents may not know.

There is a difference between legal and physical custody

In general, custody refers both to where the child actually lives (physical custody) and which parent makes most of the decisions about the child (legal custody)

Joint legal custody means both parents have a right to help make decisions about the child

These decisions include education, medical care, legal status, activities, religious instruction and other matters.  Iowa law favors joint legal custody. This is the kind of custody that most parents have.  This means that even though a child may primarily live with one parent, both parents may still have a right to participate in decision-making.

Sole legal custody means one parent has the right to make decisions about the child

These situations are quite rare. They occur when a court determines it is better for the child to have one parent making the decisions.  The court must say that there is clear and convincing evidence that joint custody is unreasonable.  This means it is not in the best interest of the child.

Joint physical care means an award of physical care to both joint legal custodial parents.

This is commonly referred to as “shared custody.”  Both parents have rights and responsibilities toward the child such as shared parenting time, maintaining homes for the child, providing routine care for the child.  Most times, neither parent has rights superior to those of the other parent.

Sole physical care means that one parent is responsible for the care and living arrangements for the child

This means the child lives with one parent more than the other parent.  Usually, it happens if one parent leaves, was never involved, or abandons the children. However, unless decided in a court of law, you will still likely have shared legal custody.  The court can give one parent “primary physical care.”  Sole physical care alone does not mean that the primary parent has sole legal decision-making.

What can I do to help my child obtain mental health services if I share physical and/or legal custody with another parent?

  1. Make sure to talk to your child’s other parent. Explain your concerns, and why you think mental health services are needed.
  2. Do not try to hide the fact that your child is receiving mental health care from the other parent. Hiding services provides your child the message that s/he is doing something wrong or shameful. It also places the child in the middle of parent conflict.  Honesty is always the best policy.
  3. If you and your child’s other parent cannot resolve the need for services, you may need to seek legal services to help make these decisions. Oftentimes, compromises are able to be reached.

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