When treating a child of separated or divorced parents, it is important to know who can consent on behalf of the child and who will be responsible for payment.
- a separated or divorced parent will either be a joint custodian of the child, sole custodian or an access parent.
- for incapable minors, a custodial parent usually has the power to make important decisions about the child’s care; an access parent does not.
- a custodial parent may consent to treatment, but an access parent may not.
- unless there is a court order or separation agreement stating otherwise, a parent who has only right of access to the child is entitled to make enquiries and be given information about the child and receive copies of the child’s records.
In obtaining consent to treatment of a child of divorced or separated parents,
- the most reliable means of establishing legal authority is to obtain a written statement from the parents outlining who may make treatment decisions for the child and what information can be conveyed to each parent.
- the dentist should try to secure consent from each joint custodian, particularly if the treatment is invasive or risky.
It is important to note that, according to Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act, 1996, a dentist must obtain consent from a capable minor directly even when he or she is accompanied by a parent or guardian. However, since an agreement to pay by someone under the age of eighteen may not be enforceable, it is unwise to act on a minor patient’s instructions alone, except in an emergency.
A dentist should identify upfront who is responsible for payment of the account. Ideally, both parents should sign a financial agreement for the child’s treatment; otherwise, the parent who consents should be responsible for payment. If one parent is the decision-maker and the other is covering the costs of treatment, it is prudent to confirm the plan and payment arrangements in writing in order to avoid collection problems.
Read more: Children and Consent to Treatment, Health Care Consent Act, 1996