Football is a way of life for many families in Michigan. However, there is growing evidence that repeated concussions can cause serious brain injuries, and that such injuries may be more severe among those who begin playing tackle football before age 12. Even for those who begin playing as teenagers, multiple concussions may cause lifelong damage to the brain.
Parents have the right to consider the evidence and weigh the risks vs. the benefits of their children playing contact sports. But what happens when the parents disagree?
Parents who are still together will have to work out the dispute. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the exclusive right to make this type of decision on behalf of the child.
If the parents have a joint custody order, they are expected to make parenting decisions like these together. In Michigan, joint custody gives each parent the same right to make such decisions even if the children live with one parent more often than the other. Their joint custody order may resolve specific disputes or provide a mechanism for resolving them.
However, parents with joint custody orders typically have the right to take parenting disputes back to court. This can be done by seeking a modification to or enforcement of the child custody order.
In football-loving states like Michigan, disputes over whether children can play are ending up in the courts more and more often, according to the founder of a large law firm with offices in 40 states.
Typically, one parent is concerned that playing tackle football or other contact sports is too dangerous and wishes to deny a child permission to play. The other parent believes that the benefits outweigh the risks. Unfortunately for the concerned parent, this often means the other parent appears to be “on the side of the child.”
The New York Times recently profiled one such dispute, which is taking place in Pennsylvania. The father, a personal injury attorney, believes the science is clear. And, the 17-year-old who wants to play football has already suffered three concussions. The mother has consulted family doctors who see no reason the boy can’t play. The father believes the doctors are discounting the science.
In that case, the issue may be decided when the child turns 18. In a Michigan case with younger children, however, the parents would likely be ordered to try to resolve the dispute in mediation before it could be brought to court. If no resolution could be reached in mediation, however, the family court is available to make a determination.