Say nothing?

...The mother requests that should the child’s father phone the practice asking questions in regard to the young girl’s dental treatment no information should be provided...

BACKGROUND: A dental practice manager contacts the MDDUS advice line in regard to a phone call from the mother of a patient (child). The mother is requesting that should the child’s father phone the practice asking questions in regard to the young girl’s dental treatment, no information should be provided. The manager wants to know the legal position in regard to access to the child’s records.

ANALYSIS/OUTCOME: An MDDUS dental adviser writes to the practice manager with advice on the matter. It is important first to ascertain from the mother if both she and the father have parental responsibility in relation to the girl’s dental care. If they were married at the time of the child’s birth then both have parental responsibility, and information may be disclosed to one parent without the other’s permission (if doing so would be in the child’s best interests and would not disclose third-party or seriously harmful information). Separated or divorced parents also have equal rights, unless parental responsibility has been revoked by a court order.

For unmarried parents with a child born before 4 May 2006 (in Scotland), responsibility would default to the mother but the father may acquire rights through a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or by a court order. For parents who were unmarried at the time of the birth of the child, on or after 4 May 2006, the default position would again be the mother having parental responsibility, but the father would also have parental responsibility if named on the birth certificate.

If a child is made the subject of a care order, the local authority has legal responsibility for the child, and if parental rights have been removed or limited by a court order, then the local authority will likely have legal responsibility.

Further investigation reveals that the couple are divorced. The MDDUS adviser states that, should the mother be unable to provide any valid cause restricting access by the father to the girl’s dental information (i.e. receipt of an official document such as a solicitors’ letter or court order), then he has the right to be provided information that is in the child’s best interests to disclose.

KEY POINTS

  • Separated or divorced parents generally have equal access to a child’s records depending on the detail of the custody position.
  • Parental responsibility usually falls to the mother in parents unmarried at the time of birth, unless the father is named on the birth certificate.
  • Contact MDDUS with any uncertainty regarding parental access to a child’s records.