Dentists need to be familiar with how to proceed in cases involving children of divorced parents. Key issues involve who has the authority to grant consent and who has financial responsibility for the treatment provided. Treating children of divorced parents can sometimes seem like a complicated situation and certainly there can be highly-acrimonious cases that require extreme tact, diplomacy, and a sensitive approach when caring for the child or children involved.
It’s generally agreed that whichever parent brings the child to the dental practice has the authority to grant consent and the responsibility for the costs associated with the treatment provided. Sometimes the parent or adult bringing the child to the appointment may indicate that the other parent is responsible for payment. They may even bring a copy of the divorce decree or other court documents as proof.
Whenever possible, keep your staff and your practice out of the middle of these situations, which can disrupt the flow of the work day and place staff in a very uncomfortable position. However, you should be aware that your staff may need to request copies of legal documents, such as divorce decrees, to confirm which parent or guardian has the authority to consent to treatment and who is responsible for payment.
You have the right to contact the parent who’s reported to be the financially responsible party to confirm that they’re aware of the treatment provided and are willing to provide payment. You may even want to request credit card information in order to process payment at the end of the appointment; be sure you indicate the anticipated cost during the initial call and the actual cost during a post-treatment call.
Contact your attorney and a representative of your malpractice carrier anytime you suspect a custody arrangement may present challenges for the practice. They can help ensure that you comply with the appropriate laws and are not placed in the position of being stuck between parents who might find it difficult to work together.
Dentists and their staffs should always be alert to any signs of abuse and/or neglect and whether state laws require those signs to be reported. It’s important to note that abuse/neglect reporting requirements are sometimes found in laws other than state dental practice acts. Additional guidance on the reporting of abuse or neglect is available in Section 3.E. and Advisory Opinion 3.E.1. of the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.