The Bulletin Board

Bill aims to address mental health treatment consent issue for children with unmarried parents

By: - February 25, 2022 1:51 pm
The State House under a partly cloudy sky

The bill sailed through the House with bipartisan support. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Given the high demand and shortage of providers, accessing mental health care in New Hampshire can be a challenge for all children. It can be harder still for children of divorced parents with joint decision-making because unlike married parents, both must consent to treatment. 

House Bill 1416 would change that by allowing just one parent to consent to treatment as long as the other parent was notified within 30 days.

“I think, currently, there are children being denied mental health care because parents can’t get along,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Amanda Bouldin, a Manchester Democrat, during a public hearing. “The court system is very backed up, and enabling one parent to just go ahead, I think, would help countless, especially children that are in a divorce situation.”

The House Children and Family Law Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday. 

“I don’t see why unmarried parents should be limited in a way that married parents are not,” Bouldin said. “If a child in a divorced or unmarried parents situation is willing to go to one parent with their mental health issues and their concerns but not to another parent, it can be difficult to get total buy-in without having to cause additional stress to the child.”

​​NAMI NH Executive Director Susan Stearns said research has shown that early intervention improves mental health outcomes. The group is not taking a position on the bill but has talked with committee members. 

“In no way, shape, or form do we discount the role of parents in the recovery process,” she said. “And they should be an active participant in their child’s mental health treatment. But anything that would delay timely treatment or intervention in a mental health crisis gravely concerns us.”

Committee Chairwoman Kimberly Rice, a Hudson Republican, asked Bouldin whether the bill would aggravate an already tense family relationship if the other parent learned about treatment by receiving a bill for services.

“I agree that we don’t want to be setting people up who are already in conflict to have more conflict,” Bouldin said. “But if they’re already in conflict, to the extent that one person is willing to interfere and essentially prevent the child from accessing mental health care, I think that we need to go back to focusing on the benefits for the child.”

In testifying against the bill, Rep. David Love, a Derry Republican, said his ex-wife did not tell him their minor daughter was being treated by a psychiatrist and on medication until she became suicidal. 

“For one parent to have no idea that this is going on, it’s a travesty of justice,” Love told the committee. “Medical decisions, unless it’s an emergency situation, should be shared by both parents unless one’s a bad alcoholic or out of their mind or unless there is a good reason not to.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]