Since the late 1990s, the term ‘partnership’ has increasingly been inserted into the literature and rhetoric of the UK health-care system. In this paper, the assumptions and implications surrounding the usage of the term in relation to doctor-patient interaction are examined in the context of paediatric services. The paper considers recent ideas about partnership in medical encounters, especially those of Charles et al., and the extent to which they are applicable to children. The paper then goes on to develop a framework for understanding patient-partnership issues. It is argued that any investigation of partnership will need to take account of the organisational and legal setting, as well as the beliefs and agendas that all parties bring to the medical encounter. In the context of paediatrics, the perspectives of three actors–the child, parent and health service professional–need to be explored. Our framework allows for different sorts of ‘coalition’ to develop between these actors as they try to reconcile their perspectives in the clinic and offers a situationally contextualised view of partnership. We also argue that these matters require study outside as well as inside the clinic, through the use of a range of methods, including those that help children at home review their involvement in decision making in the clinic.