As I meet with families weekly who are currently experiencing or have experienced a separation/divorce, I am made aware of the unique situations that arise out of joint and shared custody arrangements. If one parent decides to seek therapy for a child, what are the implications for the other parent? Do both have to be involved? Do both have to consent? Do both have to pay? Here are the details.
Therapists have a unique role when working with children in that their allegiance and commitment is always with the child. This means that regardless of circumstances surrounding parental discord, disagreement, or differences, the counselor is concerned with the best interest of the child and proceeds to treat with that understanding.
Even if a parent has joint or shared custody, he or she is permitted by law to pay for services without requesting financial support from the other parent. This is true in the case of therapy as well. One parent can assume all financial obligations related to therapy, even if there are other areas of the child’s life that are paid for jointly or shared. However, if one parent initiates treatment with a counselor and expects the other parent to split the cost (per custody arrangements), he or she must be aware that the other parent may question the need or choose to secure a different therapist.
Unless the custody documents specify otherwise, most parents are able to participate in services and activities related to the child at their discretion. In other words, if the parent chooses to be involved in the therapy process, he or she has the right to but not the obligation.
In my practice, I offer parent consultations to keep parents informed and aware of what is happening throughout treatment. In the case of co-parents, I make the offer that the parent who does not bring the child to sessions is able to have a phone consultation with me. Some parents take advantage of this, others do not.
In most cases of joint or shared custody, if one parent is assuming all financial burden for a service related to a child, the other parent does not need to give consent. As a courtesy, I ask every parent that I meet with to inform the other parent of several things:
- My name
- My contact information
- That they are initiating treatment for the child with me
- That I am available for a consultation
This ensures that the other parent is aware of me, and that I will be working with their child. I am not legally required to gain consent from the other parent, (unless legal documents expressly state that no decisions can be made relating to the child without consent from both parents) but desire to gain awareness of the situation.
Obviously, the more involved and invested both parents are in the child therapy process, the better the situation is for the child. However, regardless of the situation between the parents, the child benefits from therapy and emerges a happier, healthier kid as a result.
** NOTE: This is not meant to be considered legal advice, nor is this comprehensive information that applies in every situation. Due diligence and prudence on the part of parents is encouraged, including consulting with attorneys before making decisions related to co-parenting.