Fathers' Rights to School and Medical Records

Fathers have certain parental rights and responsibilities when it comes to raising their children. The law recognizes a father's rights in three well-defined situations. If a father and mother are married at the time of a child's birth, the law presumes the paternity of the father. 

If a father has adopted a child through a court process, he obtains the same rights as a married father. If a father established paternity through a court action, he can also establish rights of child custody and parenting time.

One of a father's key responsibilities is to provide care for a child. For example, when a father does not have primary legal custody, he may pay child support for the child's well-being. As parents, fathers also need to understand a child's education and health care needs. This corresponds with the right to review and receive copies of a child's school and medical records. Both federal and state laws apply to these rights.

Continue reading to learn more about a father's rights to school and medical records and the considerations that affect these rights.

Fathers' Rights to Children's School Records

You may wish to review their school records to guide your child through their education. These records can provide you with important information to ensure that your child receives a quality education.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that applies to educational agencies and schools. These institutions receive funding under programs administered by the Department of Education. Private and parochial schools may not be subject to FERPA as they may not receive this funding.

FERPA gives custodial and noncustodial parents rights to their child's public school records. Unless a school learns of a court order stating the contrary, both parents have the right to:

"Education records" are records that:

  1. Contain information related to a student; and
  2. An educational agency or school maintains or keeps

A school may not have to provide you with access to school calendars. It also may not have to provide notices for parent-teacher conferences or extra-curricular activities. You should contact the child's school and ask to put your name on lists for such information. Each school district has its own system for parental notification of meetings and activities.

FERPA requires a school to provide a parent with an opportunity to inspect and review his/her child's education records. They must provide records within 45 days of a request. The school must provide you with copies of education records. If you don't live within commuting distance of the school, the school must make other reasonable arrangements.

States confer the same right of access to school records to both parents. The court issuing the custody and parenting time orders for a child may also include a provision in its decree. The school records provision will likely apply no matter what type of school (public or private) your child attends.

Fathers' Rights to Children's Medical Records

In order to direct your child's health care, you may wish to review medical records. You need such information to ensure your child receives the proper medical care.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that, among other things, protects the privacy of identifiable health information. HIPAA's Privacy Rule generally allows a parent to access his/her child's medical records.

Under the Privacy Rule, the parent acts as the minor child's personal representative for health records. There are three exceptions in which the parent would not serve as the personal representative. The exceptions are:

  1. When the minor consents to care and the parent's consent isn't required under State or other applicable law
  2. When the minor obtains care at the direction of a court or a person appointed by the court
  3. When (and to what extent) the parent agrees that the minor and the health care provider may have a confidential relationship

Even in these circumstances, you may still gain access to your minor child's medical records when State law, other applicable law, or your court decree requires or permits such parental access. On the other hand, the State may deny you access when State or other law prohibits the access. If State or other law is silent on your right to access records, the licensed care provider may exercise his or her professional judgment. The provider may then grant or deny you access to your minor child's medical information.

A medical provider also may choose not to treat a parent as a personal representative when:

  1. The provider reasonably believes that the child is a victim of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect; or
  2. That treating the parent as the child's personal representative could endanger the child

Other Considerations

When seeking access to your child's school and medical records, you should consult your state's law. An examination of state law will highlight any additional requirements to those stated above.

Many states have laws that allow minors to give consent for some kinds of health care. This may include emergency, contraceptive, pregnancy-related, STD, substance abuse, and mental health care. It really depends on the state.

States also have laws that allow minors to consent to care if they're emancipated. This may mean that the child is living apart from their parents, pregnant, a high school graduate, or older than a certain age. The HIPAA Privacy Rule is subject to these types of laws.

Additional considerations may arise from the orders of a custody case. For example, family court orders may prohibit you from directing the day-to-day care of your child. The law may then not consider you to be your child's personal representative. In such situations, you may be denied access to school or medical records.

More Questions About Fathers' Rights to School and Medical Records? Ask an Attorney

While federal law generally allows access to school and medical records, state law may provide different rules. If you need help understanding your right to access your child's records, you should contact a family law attorney near you.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You can represent yourself in a paternity case, but establishing paternity can be emotionally and legally complex
  • Lawyers can help you understand your rights and responsibilities

An attorney can explain the legal procedures and consequences of establishing paternity. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

If you are in the midst of a paternity case, it may be an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and provide for your children. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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