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Divorcing When Your Child Has ADHD

Over the past few weeks, I have seen a repeated theme in several timesharing (commonly known as custody) hearings. Parents with children diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are routinely arguing over whether the child should be administered medication. The parent in favor of medication attempts to disparage the other parent by stating that the parent routinely fails to provide the medication to the child. Failing to administer medication to a child is a basis to deem an individual unfit to care for a minor child. The parent against the medication states that they are not failing to administer the medication, but rather that the parent has concerns regarding the affects of the medication.

Today, in a temporary timesharing hearing the Husband testified that the child complained of headaches and hallucinations when taking the ADHD drug Vyvanse. The Wife testified that the father was unfit to care for the minor children because he previously withheld the ADHD medication from the child.

I am not a doctor and I do not claim to have any special medical knowledge of the drugs that treat ADHD. However, from the many parents who come into our office, this seems to be a common dispute in many households. Children may be affected by different medications differently. The advise of a physician who knows about the side effects your child is experiencing is always wise.

As with any medication there are risks and side effects associated with taking Vyvanse. A brief search of webMD reveals the following:

Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD sometime have side effects, but these tend to happen early in treatment and are usually mild and short-lived. The most common side effects of stimulants include:

  • Decreased appetite/weight loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Jitteriness

Rarely, medications for ADHD can cause more serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. They may also exacerbate psychiatric conditions like depression, psychosis, or anxiety. So, before you or your children start taking any ADHD medication, make sure you talk to a doctor about your medical and family history, as well as discuss the potential risks.

Parents should be informed of their children’s medical conditions and have a say in the medications they are prescribed. The best divorced parents are those that can still co-parent. Although you may be divorced, your children will always tie you together.

A court ruling requiring a child to take ADHD medication is disturbing as it takes the control of medicating a child away from the parent and puts it in the hands of the court. However, even if there is a valid medical concern regarding some side effects, a court order may still require the child to take the medication.

When a court considers evidence related to ADHD medication, it must do so with great caution. Although the family law courts are there to help resolve disputes, they should not step into the decision-making shoes of the parents. Parents know their children and their needs better than any court ever will. Concerns over a parents failure to administer medication should only be brought into court when it is a serious and legitimate concern. Unfortunately, it appears that many attorneys are attempting to raise this issue in an attempt to mislead the court about the child’s true needs. In the end, this can drastically increase the cost of medication, as an expert should testify at trial to assist the court in determining whether it is imperative for the child to consume the ADHD medication.

In both cases that I handled this week, the Judges ruled that the parents’ refusal to medicate the child impaired their abilities to be parents. Additionally, in one case the court ordered that the parent is required to give the child the ADHD medication despite that he complains of headaches and hallucinations. We have filed an appeal and will challenge the Judge’s ruling with the appellate court.

I am not advocating in favor or against ADHD medications. Every child is different and only the patient, doctor, and parents can make an informed decision. However, courts should be extraordinarily cautious when making medical decisions for a minor child without a doctor’s input. If you or a loved one is faced with this issue during a divorce or timesharing matter, be sure that your attorney retains a competent and credible expert to testify on your behalf and advocate for the position you believe is best for the child.