Raising a child is expensive, and parents frequently incur unexpected costs. If the parents of a child find themselves in a situation where they have to determine child support obligations, it is important that all possible expenses are addressed. One common issue is who will be responsible for covering the costs of a child’s healthcare. While some parents may have insurance that provides coverage for the cost of a child’s medical treatment, not all parents do. Additionally, even if a child’s health care is covered under an insurance policy, there may be costs that are not covered. As such, it is essential that any support order sets forth terms determining which parent will be responsible for paying uninsured medical expenses to avoid contention and the need for court intervention when such expenses arise.
Uninsured Medical Expenses Defined
Any cost associated with a child’s medical treatment that is not paid for by insurance is referred to as an uninsured medical expense. This can include co-pays, prescriptions, deductibles and the cost for adaptive devices. It is important to note that in addition to costs associated with treatment by a pediatrician or family doctor, uninsured costs associated with treatment by a dentist or eye doctor are considered uninsured medical expenses as well. Generally, only costs associated with medically necessary treatment are considered uninsured medical expenses for the purposes of child support. For example, the cost of elective procedures such as cosmetic surgery will most likely not fall under the umbrella of uninsured medical expenses.
Responsibility for Uninsured Medical Expenses
As is the case with most custody and support issues, parents can draft their own agreement defining which parent will bear the cost of uninsured medical expenses. Courts will approve an agreement made between parents as long as the agreement is determined to be in the best interest of the child involved.
If the parents cannot come to an agreement, which parent bears the responsibility for uninsured medical expenses depends on where the support action is filed. Most states have guidelines that dictate how responsibility for uninsured medical expenses should be divided. In some states, the non-custodial parent is responsible for uninsured medical expenses that exceed either a set amount or his or her support obligation, while in other states, parents are required to split the cost of uninsured medical expenses based on their respective monthly incomes.
Failure to Pay Uninsured Medical Expenses
Regardless of who bears the ultimate responsibility for a child’s uninsured medical costs, practically speaking whichever parent has custody of the child when the expense is incurred may have to pay the cost initially. If the parent who is not responsible for uninsured medical expenses has to incur the cost, he or she should be certain to retain copies of any bills and receipts of payment to enable him or her to seek reimbursement from the responsible parent. If one parent is required to pay for some or all of a child’s uninsured medical expenses and fails to do so, the other parent can seek court intervention to enforce the obligation. The methods for enforcing an obligation to pay uninsured medical expenses are generally the same as the methods used for enforcing child support arrearages, and include garnishing of wages, and holding the party responsible in contempt of court.