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Parental Rights to Information for Their Adult “Children” Away at College

Parental Rights to Information

There was a recent potential active shooter event at my child’s college that got me thinking about how I would get information should my child have needed me, or information from the school, or even information from a medical provider. How would I have been able to guide my child through such a horrific journey if I was shut out of information and the ability to act on it?.

This thought process was present because parental rights as adult age “children” grow up and go off to college are limited — and can often leave parents dealing with a new, previously uncharted, reality. Mainly, the reality that even though parents continue to financially support their children, including paying their college tuition, medical and other necessary expenses, their child is now an adult, living away from home and that legally parents are not entitled to any information from the university (enrollment status, grades, etc.) or medical providers (health status, administration of expenses). While parents may always be concerned for their children’s student status, health, and overall well-being, the legal reality is that once they turn 18, they are legally considered adults, and parental rights become limited.

As mentioned above, one particular area where parental rights are limited is when it comes to their children’s enrollment status in college. Once a child turns 18, they are considered responsible for their own education, and parents typically do not have the right to access information about their children’s enrollment status without their child’s consent.

Parents also have limited rights when it comes to their children’s medical conditions,once they turn eighteen. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), once a child turns 18, they become legally responsible for their own healthcare decisions and medical information. This means that parents cannot access their children’s medical records without their child’s consent.  Furthermore, they cannot make medical decisions for their children if the child is unable to make decisions for themselves.

Because these are realities that can be challenging and can create important legal considerations, it is important for parents and their now (or soon to be) adult children to have thoughtful and intentional conversations about what kind of access to information parents should be able to retain. Building trust and fostering open communication with their children can go a long way in ensuring their safety and well-being while they are away at college — as can putting in place certain legal instruments in place that specify what kind of sensitive information parents can access with their children’s consent.

For example, parents can encourage their children to sign a medical release form, granting them access to their medical records and allowing them to make healthcare decisions in case of an emergency. Parents can also help their children create a healthcare proxy, which is a legal document that designates someone to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in case they are unable to do so themselves. There are also broader legal instruments, like a power of attorney, that may specify the areas where parents can get access to their adult children’s financial information.

As parents, we would like to continue to be a backstop or safety net for our adult children when it comes to their health and welfare.  Having well drafted documents that provide for access to information and the ability to use that information for the benefit of our adult children should they need it are the only tools that can facilitate that.

In conclusion, while parental rights may be limited when it comes to their adult college children, there are important steps parents and their children can take together to have open lines of communication and direct access to information when needed. As a mom myself with a recent college graduate, another child away at college and another child enrolling in college soon, I have navigated this and would be happy to offer direct legal support for you and your family as you make important choices for this next chapter of your relationship with your children. Please feel free to contact our office if you’d like to set up a consultation — 702.527.5557. We are here to help.

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