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I think my child has a disability, but my ex disagrees. What can I do?

Raising a child with a disability has some distinct challenges, but what do you do if you and your former partner can’t agree on treatment, or whether your child even has a condition? Tindall Gask Bentley family law partner Jane Miller explains.


Parenting a child with a disability can be a lonely and challenging experience at the best of times, but when combined with poor parental relations after separation it can feel like an impossible situation to deal with.

Thankfully for most separated families parents are able to cooperate when identifying a possible disability, seeking a diagnosis and then seeking treatment.   However, this type of collaborative approach does not exist in all circumstances, and parents can go to war about whether a problem does exist for their child and how they should go about treating it.

Is there a disability?

Whether it be suspected  Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or another disability, sometimes the symptoms are subtle to the untrained eye. As a result, one parent might think there is a problem and the other parent might not have any concerns at all.

Clearly the first step is to seek medical advice and undergo any recommended testing or assessments. Parents sometimes require legal advice to reach agreement about this step. For other parents that can’t agree, the court might need to intervene to decide if the testing should proceed, especially if this involves an invasive procedure.

After a diagnosis 

Once a disability has been identified and confirmed via testing or assessment, there are usually multiple treatment methods available.

Again, separated parents may take polarised views about which treatment is best for the child and the court is called upon to make the decision on behalf of the child. If the parents’ lack of co-operation is persistent and intense then the court might consider assigning “parental responsibility” to just one parent. That would mean that only one parent is entitled to make medical and allied health decisions on behalf of the child.

Furthermore, there can be difficulties compelling the other parent to commit to providing the recommended treatment. Whether it’s getting the child to appointments with treatment providers, administering medication or undertaking recommended exercises at home, there is no certainty the other parent will follow through. Again, these responsibilities can become court ordered in the most extreme cases.

Different values

Parents will often have different values about what is important in a child’s life, and despite any medical advice may have their own views about what is causing challenges for their child. For example, a parent might think it’s not autism that’s the problem but the other parent’s inability to discipline properly. Or a parent might think that their child does not have ADHD, but instead the custodial parent is “faking” it to obtain social security funding. At the most extreme one parent may accuse the other of having munchausen by proxy.

Impact of disability 

If a child has a disability then the Family Court will need to have comprehensive information about that particular child so it can make decisions that are in the child’s best interests.

Depending upon the nature and extent of the disability then the child’s living and contact arrangements will need to be modified to meet the child’s needs.

Way forward

Without a doubt the best way forward for separated parents of a child with a disability is to prioritise communication and to try to collaborate. This can be tremendously difficult and therefore comprehensive mediation and/or counselling is invaluable. Whilst it can be difficult to see things from the perspective of the other parent, if both parents are committed to improving communication then this can be achieved.

It is also of benefit to obtain legal advice as to rights and responsibilities related to children with disabilities so that all decision making is well-informed and capable of addressing the best interests of the child.

Tindall Gask Bentley are experts in family law, offering a high level of experience, expertise and empathy to secure the best possible result for you and your family. Find your nearest TGB office and book an appointment here, or register your details here and we will be in touch soon.

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