We are continuing the series about Child Support and the things it covers. This article will focus on expenses incurred that are outside the actual child support payment but perhaps still required by the court as a form of supporting your child. Our previous article covered child support payments.
What do I do about medical bills incurred by my wife for the kids?
This is an issue that is far too common in the Probate & Family Court. After parties divorce, often they do not communicate well. One party may incur a bill for the other without letting them know (because they are the responsible party on the insurance, just for spite or valid reasons such as an emergency) and then the second party ends up having to pay a bill, dealing with a collections action, or credit repair and angry as a result. Often this happens with medical, dental and therapy bills.
Here’s the scenario: Father of 2 children is remarried and has children with his ex-wife. The ex-wife takes the girls to the doctor or hospital and lists him as the responsible party since the medical insurance is in his name. He pays his child support on time. He pays for other things as well for the children. However, he is not listed on the hospital forms so when there is a balance left after insurance from one of the medical bills, he is not notified until suddenly he and his new wife are receiving calls from collection agencies. New wife asks this question:
“Since my husband did not sign the hospital forms are we responsible? His credit affects my credit. Collection agencies call us out of the blue. What do we do? We have called the hospital to request the forms proving he did not sign them and they refer us to call the collection company. We ask them for the forms and are told call the hospital. It is a vicious cycle. The hospital says since he did not sign or bring the children in, they cannot release those records to us. We have written letters to both asking them to be removed from his credit to no avail. What do you suggest we do now?”
REVIEW YOUR AGREEMENTS/ORDERS: The first step in this analysis is to examine your agreements and orders. Take out your file and remove all of the Orders. What does your agreement say about this topic? Or what did the Judge order concerning this issue? What should happen with this situation? If there were modifications after the initial agreement, make sure that you take those into consideration as well.
Agreements always address the topic of medical insurance and payment of uninsured medical expenses for the children. It will detail who pays or if either party pays, how the expense is reimbursed. With proper drafting, the agreement should have deadlines for notifying the other party and for the second party paying his/her share of the expense. If it doesn’t, carefully examine the language to carve out as much detail as you can to apply to your situation. These documents can be complex or confusion, especially if you are already feeling the stress and pressure of the collection calls. That is a good time to seek out an attorney for assistance.
CONSIDER MODIFICATION: If the process of supplying medical insurance or reimbursing the uninsured medical expenses has become an issue, consider a modification of the agreement. Is the language in your agreement not functional? Is it causing an issue with getting these expenses paid on time? Are you no longer able to supply the insurance or to supply it at a reasonable cost? If you can demonstrate that this is the case, you can request a modification.
In our example above, assuming that there are no deadlines for notifying the father of the expenses, you can request that the Court modify the agreement to include those deadlines citing the material change in circumstance as mother’s inability to notify father timely and father insuring unnecessary expenses, hurting credit, etc. See more on Modification here.
CONSIDER CONTEMPT: Has the former spouse refused to supply or cancelled the insurance? IS he unwilling to pay the uninsured medical expenses? If there is an order that requires this, then the father may be in contempt on this issue.
In the example above, if there is language in the agreement that the mother is ignoring concerning notification of the expense, she may be in contempt of the agreement. The father can claim the remedy of all extra expenses incurred. Father can also attempt to ask the court to slightly modify the language in the agreement as a remedy to the contempt if more detail would prevent future issues. See more on Contempt here.
Each situation is unique and has its own set of qualities. If you are concerned that you may not be getting the support you need from the other parent, i.e., notice of upcoming expenses, or may want to consider changes to the Order, contact my office. I can provide you with a sit down personal discussion of your situation.