As mental health resources are becoming more widely available and accepted, children may wish to seek therapy to process an array of issues at school, home, or the general hardships of growing up. Before a child can access mental health services, does the minor need consent from parents under Florida Law? The short answer is yes—both parents are required to grant consent to approve a child’s use of therapy. However, the variety of family structures and legal rights of one or both parents can complicate a seemingly simple request to access mental health resources.
For instance, a child may spend separate time with their divorced who share parental duties. Under Fla. Stat. Section 61, upon dissolution of marriage, parents must create and follow a court approved parenting plan with regards to each child. Among the many requirements, the plan must designate who is responsible for the child’s health care. And “if the court orders shared parental responsibility over health care decisions, the parenting plan must provide that either parent may consent to mental health treatment for the child,” unless a court finds shared parental responsibility would not be in the best interest of the child.
You can imagine a situation where one parent does not consent to the minor going to therapy while the other parent sees no issue with it or thinks it would be beneficial to the child. Where such disagreement cannot be resolved by the parents, one or both parties could seek a judgment from the court. The court may consider the expressed desires of the parents and subsequently grant either one party the ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of the child’s welfare—in this case mental health decisions—or may divide those responsibilities between the parties based on the best interests of the child. In Florida, the “best interest of the child” is regarded as the primary consider on which to base decisions for parental responsibility.
It isn’t always clear what would be in the best interest of the minor, but Florida law delineates the factors that must be considered by the court in determining the “best interest of the child.” Such factors include that may be relevant are: the demonstrated capacity of each parent to act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent, the reasonable preferences of the child, and the development stage of the child, among many other considerations. And in child dependency cases, or where a Guardian Ad Litem has been appointed, the Guardian Ad Litem may submit recommendations to the court about what would be best for the minor.