Mental Health Laws

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright 2000

Dear Annette,

I am concerned about my 13 year old son. I am a non-custodial parent and he is in a major power struggle with his mother. The problem is I do not feel she is correct in either the issues or her method of handling them. I try to refrain from discussing it with my son. But if I try to discuss it with my ex-wife she will then punish my son for telling me. For this reason I usually just try to get my son to talk to his mother and now his counselor about. My ex-wife and I could not get along on what I consider basic character issues the entire time we were married. This is the root of why I filed for divorce 1993.

The problem now seems to be escalating way out of hand. My son has been in counseling off and on for several years for anger management. The inconsistency here is that my son only has an anger problem at my ex-wife house.

I agree there is a problem, but I don't have a problem with my son no matter how long he stays with me. In all of these series with counseling for my son, I have not interfered with them for several reasons.

One is that whenever I am involved, my ex-wife will pull my son out of counseling. I also feel that the counselor will see through to the problem and try to help my son. What is happening now is that my ex-wife is saying that the counselor recommends that my son participate in some special unit to get to the bottom of his anger. The way my ex-wife describes it, it sounds very similar to outward bound programs.

My son refuses to participate, so my ex-wife said that the counselor recommends that she document all anger occurrences with the police and commit him to juvenile detention.

Now part of this I can understand, but I find it hard to believe all of that. Something about this just feels wrong. When I asked my ex-wife about the counselor's name, she said that the counselor does not want to talk to me.

The Parenting Plan recorded in the divorce action states that all decisions other than day to day and emergency issues are to be handled jointly. There is also WAC 26.09.225 which says that both parents are entitled to full and equal access of information absent a court order to the contrary. I called the counselor and she told me that the law says that she cannot release information without a signed statement from my son.

This is really the question. Is this a correct statement? I know my son would sign a statement if asked but I also know that my ex-wife will not permit him to sign such a statement.

I really don't want to force the issue but I am concerned about what facts such an assessment is based upon. I realize I need to contact an attorney and will probably do so, but I hope you can provide me some information regarding mental health care and parental rights so this can be accomplished without taking an antagonistic course.


A Worried Father


Dear Worried Father,

I know that you only wanted to know about mental health laws and I will tell you about them, but I think there is other things you should hear as well so you can make good decisions regarding your son.

First... There are some people who are antagonistic which causes most people to have a difficulty being around them for long without losing their temper. Your ex-wife may be one of these. Did you have a problem controlling your anger while with your ex-wife?

There are some relationships that have many underlying problems that were left unattended and cause feelings of frustration and anger. Over time such relationships become explosive and nothing can be done about getting along until the underlying problems are adequately addressed. In some cases the learned mode of relating to each other is antagonistic and nothing can be discussed without anger flaring up.

Children learn how to behave with others by watching role models like their parents. Could your son be reenacting the mode of response that your ex-wife and you had?

Could it be time to see Family Court for sole custody of your son. You got out of this antagonistic relationship, isn't it time to get him out? Case in point...You stated that you do not have a problem with your son no matter how long he stays you. Also, a male adolescent needs to be with his father not his mother at this age.

These are points to help you gain custody of your son....

  1. Your ex-wife will not let you have joint care of your son.
  2. She is vindictive. To get her own way she is willing to hurt your son by taking him out of counseling or leaving him in one type of counseling that will be detrimental to his future (i.e. Setting him up for Juvenile Jail).
  3. I have to refrain from discussing issues of your son care with your son because when I discuss it with your ex-wife punishes my son for telling me. As you stated both parents are entitled to full and equal access of information absent a court order to the contrary. You have a right to know what is happening to your son!
  4. Show that your son's aggressiveness and lack of anger control is atypical behavior and only presents itself while in his mother's care. You do not have a problem with your son no matter how long he stays with you.
  5. A male adolescent needs to be with his dad not his mother at this age.

Family Court will want to hear these things!


Parental Rights

Have you spoken to the counselor about your thoughts? She cannot tell you what your son has told her unless your son releases this information to you. The counselor can talk to you about her modes of therapy, their benefits and draw backs and how they are working for your son. As the parent you have a right to this information. You also have the right to get another opinion from other counselors. One of them had better be the Lord.

To give access to the records of the 1st counselor's records to the 2nd counselor, a release of information form must be signed by the client. The additional signature of the legal guardian is also needed. Make sure that the release states that the 2nd counselor may have the ability to talk to the 1st counselor to fully understand that therapy was being pursued, what had been tried in the past, the successfulness of each therapy, and recommendations and reasons of those recommendations from the 1st counselor.

Your son's present counselor must have some really good reasons why she is suggesting incarceration for your son. If she doesn't, you need to get your son out of her care. Children should only be locked away as a last resort to protect themselves and/or others.

Do you really feel that your son is this way. From the tone of your letter, this is not so. You must quickly use legal means to block this action if you do not want your son's future life thrown away. At this age he will adopt the values and behaviors of the peers he is with. Do not put him with trash unless you want him to become trash. If he is already irreparable trash then throw him away.

If you feel that something is wrong in a certain situation, you are probably right. Often the Spirit of the Lord whispers troubling thoughts to our hearts and minds to give us a heads up. It should also signal that there is an immediate need to council with the Lord.

Counselors worth their salt will want to see all sides of the coin so they can get a true picture. Perhaps your ex-wife doesn't want the counselor to see the flip side of the coin because it is not a pretty picture of her.

Rights of the Client

A client's thoughts and feelings are confidential at any age. It is important that if the client know that what s/he says will not go out of the room. Although the court can subpoena all records of an individual. It is because of this so counselors do not keep record of what transpires in session or they make the very notes in such a manner that only they know what they mean.

More Parental Rights

  1. Your son cannot consent to treatment as a minor. There must be consent from a legal guardian. If your ex-wife will not listen to reason, then you do have recourse. Since the court says that you have a say in what happens to your son you can petition the court to stop the treatment, and seek other care for him, if you do not approve of the course of treatment. You must show just cause for this action. i.e. Show how your son's aggressiveness and lack of anger control is atypical behavior and only presents itself while in his mother's care.
  2. The counselor must inform you of the kind of treatment you of the treatment she offers, the potential risks, the estimated length of treatment, and reasonable results that can be expected.
  3. You have the right to a second opinion.
  4. You have the right to stop your son's counseling at any time, for any reason unless it is court ordered. Then there needs to be a petition to the court to stop it.
  5. You have the right to ask for a different method of therapy to be tried and the right to seek out a credible counselor that can do it appropriately.
  6. After the appropriate signatures have been obtained for the release of records. The person or persons who are being allowed to see the records have the right to the release of those records in a timely manner from the agency or counselor possessing them.
  7. "Consent forms must contain three things:

For Appropriate Help, Always...

  1. Ask the Lord to help you identify the steps you should take.
  2. Gain knowledge of what needs to take place to make these steps happen.
  3. Form a plan of action and then take it back to the Lord and ask Him if what you have come up with is correct. If it is correct, you will have a good feeling and you will know that what you have planned is correct. If not you will have a stupor of thought like a fog bank in your brain. Your thoughts will become elusive and hard to focus on.

Being a parent is not easy. There is no manual that comes with a child. There is no book written that will cover all the situations/problems you will find yourself in with this child, throughout his life.

To make things worse, things that are commonly black or white, given the right circumstances can flip colors completely. Add to the mix all the decisions that are shades of gray, you have too many decisions that are not clear.

All parents need help. The only defining help available is in direct answers from God. Use Him constantly. There is no shame in not knowing the answer. There is shame when a person has access to the right answer from God but believes that s/he can divine all the answers alone. This person is a danger to himself/herself and those around him/her, especially those entrusted in his/her care.


If I can be of further service, please do not hesitate in contacting me.


Annette Nay, MS


P.S. There is a multitude of information on a variety of subjects at my website at:

You may want to read about :

The Importance of Good Friends in Your Teen's Life


Understanding the steps of mediation to be able to negotiate solutions with your ex-wife.... See the section on Mediation under My Publications



Austin, Kenneth M., Moline, Mary E., & Williams, George T. (1990). Confronting Malpractice. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage

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