You’re probably aware that when parents divorce, one parent typically pays child support to the other parent to help with children’s day to day expenses, like food, housing, and clothing. However, courts can’t predict a child’s future medical expenses, so the monthly child support amount may not always be enough to cover a child’s future medical costs. This article will explain how parents pay for children’s medical expenses after divorce.
Medical Insurance and Covered Medical Expenses
In most jurisdictions, courts will factor the cost of medical insurance premiums into the child support award. For example, in Georgia, judges use child support worksheets that determine child support based on both parent’s incomes and a number of expenses, including health insurance premiums. In some states, child support worksheets can also account for other regular necessary expenses for the child, such as private school tuition, after school care, and costs for sports and other extracurricular activities.
The portion of the health insurance premium attributable to a child acts as a credit against that parent’s child support obligation. You can determine how much of your health insurance premium is attributable to children in a couple different ways. If possible, you can see how much your insurance premium would be if you didn’t include children, and then subtract that from your current premium that includes children. Alternatively, many courts will allow you to take your total insurance premium and divide it by the number of people covered by the plan. For example, if you pay $300 for health insurance through your employer, and it covers you, your spouse, and your child, then the insurance cost attributable to the child is $100, or $300 divided by three people.
Future Medical Expenses
If there are specific medical expenses that parents know are going to be due in the future, they can negotiate how to pay for those expenses as part of their settlement agreement. For example, if a husband and wife divorce, and know that their child will need braces that won’t be covered by insurance, they can agree to divide that cost ahead of time. Some parents may agree to split those costs 50/50, or in percentages corresponding to their relative incomes. Other parents may agree that one parent will cover those costs.
If you're going through a divorce and have children with medical issues, be sure to bring this to your attorney’s attention. A local family law attorney can advise you on the best way to ensure you won’t end up being responsible for these expenses without the other parent’s contribution.
Uncovered Medical Expenses
Your settlement agreement should describe how you and your spouse will divide out-of-pocket medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance, such as co-pay costs for doctor visits and medications. In some states, it may be typical for spouses to divide out-of-pocket expenses evenly between them. In other jurisdictions, spouses divide these expenses in proportion to their income. For example, if one spouse makes $75,000 per year, and the other spouse makes $25,000, they’ll split out of pocket medical expenses in a 75/25 percent ratio. Some couples may even agree to have one parent pay for all additional medical expenses, and factor that into the amount of child support the other parent pays.
You and the child's other parent will need to agree on a process for paying uncovered medical expenses. Oftentimes one parent (Parent A) will cover the medical expense(s), then submit copies of the bills or receipts to Parent B—Parent B then has a certain amount of time, usually a week to a month, to reimburse Parent A. Some parents will set up a joint account, fund it equally each month, and agree that either parent may use the account to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for the children. However, the parent using the account will have to notify the other parent as soon as the cost is incurred and provide receipts to show how the money was spent.
It’s a good idea to consider having a limited time for the parent requesting reimbursement to submit the bills and/or receipts to the other parent as well. For example, the couple can agree that if one spouse fails to give the other spouse a bill or receipt within 60 days, that parent has forfeited the right to reimbursement. No parent wants to be surprised by a year’s worth of medical bills and a demand for repayment within a few weeks.
No matter your child’s medical situation, you should know that courts won’t force you to pay for medical expenses without the other parent contributing a fair share. If you have additional questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.