Can I Stop My Former Spouse from Taking Our Children to a Chiropractor?


Samuel Homola, D.C.
February 22, 2002
Question

My former spouse is taking our three children (ages 7, 2, and 1) to a chiropractor against my wishes. The insurance bills have been coming to my house for more than two years. The oldest child has cerebral palsy. All of the bills state that their diagnosis is “spinal disorder” and the treatment is “spinal disorder modality.” I have sent the chiropractor a “Stop Treatment” letter and have made telephone contact with the chiropractor and the office manager to stop treatment.

My daughter ‘s pediatrician has told me that “chiropractors do nothing but hurt children” and that any claim they make that chiropractors can reduce ear infections, for example, is “bunk.”

My former spouse has taken the stance that my “vote on their care does not matter.” We have shared custody under which and all “major medical” decisions are supposed to be made by “both” parents. I have never been consulted prior to treatment. Since I provide the health insurance for the children, I receive payment reports from the insurance company.

What can I do? Is the chiropractor able to treat my children against my authorization? Is this criminal? Can I sue?

Answer

I agree with your pediatrician that chiropractors should not be treating small children, especially for such things as ear infections and cerebral palsy. In addition to being unnecessary, the spinal manipulation used in the treatment of infants and small children might be harmful to cartilaginous growth centers.

In the some states, chiropractors are licensed to adjust or manipulate the spine to remove “vertebral subluxations and other malpositioned articulations . . . thus restoring the normal flow of nerve impulse which produces normal function and consequent health.” Even though health insurance policies may not cover chiropractic treatment of such things as ear infections, many chiropractors submit claims listing the diagnosis as a “subluxation” or some other “spinal disorder.”

You should consult an attorney. There are several lines of attack to consider:

  • The wording of your divorce decree may bar your ex-wife from seeking non-emergency treatment for your children without consulting you or against your wishes. If it does, you may be able to obtain a court order to make her stop.
  • Most insurance companies will not knowingly cover chiropractic care for childhood diseases or for “maintenance care” in which children periodically have their spine examined and “adjusted” to “correct subluxations.” If your divorce decree does not make you responsible for payment, it might make sense for you to inform the fraud division of your insurance company that you believe that the treatment is inappropriate and unnecessary and that the chiropractor is misrepresenting what is going on. If the company stops paying, the cost may persuade your wife to stop.
  • It might be practical to petition a court to stop the inappropriate treatment. Experts can testify that the treatment is inappropriate, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous. In addition to physical danger, there could be mental danger if periodic adjustment of children is accompanied by “brainwashing” about spinal care being the key to health. It may even be possible to get an expert opinion that exposing children to this can damage their mental health and—depending on the details of the treatment—that the mother’s belief reflects such poor judgment that the court should (a) modify her custody rights, (b) order the chiropractic treatment stopped unless you concur, or (c) appoint an independent medical guardian to protect the children.

A legal battle of this sort can be very costly. However, the prospect of such a battle is sometimes enough to enable the warring spouses resolve the situation without having to go to court. Chirobase has a directory of chiropractors who might be able to provide expert testimony supporting your position. If you decide to pursue this course of action, your attorney might also benefit from discussing the situation with Stephen Barrett, M.D., who has been involved in several cases of this type.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient’s Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic’s history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on February 22, 2002.