Dear Carolyn:

My concern is my granddaughter. I always thought her mother was a little weird, but when my son divorced her, the weirdness increased. My granddaughter is only 5. My son and the mother share custody, but the mother always takes the child to the doctor – when nothing is wrong. The unnecessary doctor visits are increasing. The doctors give the mother medications for the child, apparently based upon the mother’s report of symptoms that don’t seem to exist when I see my granddaughter. I have talked to my son, and he says he doesn’t see any illnesses either. Now, she has started the child in therapy for nightmares, which, if she has them – she only has them at her mother’s house. What is happening?


Carolyn Answers:

I see this kind of behavior in divorces involving children to varying degrees of severity. As a family lawyer, I see patterns, but I am not a psychologist. Sometimes, the behavior of taking a child to the doctor is a cautious mother, which seems to even out over time. While rare, I want to mention another possibility, and I have seen a couple of these situations this year. Have you heard of Munchausen syndrome by proxy?

The psychological community renamed Munchausen by proxy as factitious disorder imposed on another (FAID). FAID is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) 300.19. FAID is a severe mental disorder wherein the perpetrator deceives others about the “sicknesses” of another person, most often a child. In some situations, victims have had unnecessary surgeries or even died. Often, the victim receives unnecessary medications

FAID is very difficult to diagnose, but the diagnosis starts with a physician or psychiatrist (or psychologist) questioning the facts and medical history. Does the medical history make sense? Your solution is that your son needs to get intensely involved in the child’s medical care and report to the doctor and therapist concerns that the mother may be falsely reporting and give the reasons why. Keeping a daily diary of the observed condition of the child will be helpful.


Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…”