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After Divorce, How Do You Handle Your Child’s Medical Costs?

Divorce is something that is inherently disruptive. Not only are we used to being married to someone, but we’re also used to being in a routine with them. You live in the same house as your spouse, you drive the same cars, you share the same furniture and assets. And of course, you may also share children. As such, you’ll share the expenses that have to do with your entire family.

But when you divorce, your entire routine — and the way that you pay for things — is disrupted. This is especially irritating and even panic-inducing if you share children with your ex. As much as we love our children, we can’t deny that they’re quite expensive! You need to know how you’re going to take care of your children after you divorce from your spouse, especially in terms of how you pay for their medical care.

Some of this will depend on which parent has physical and legal custody of the kids. Physical and legal custody are actually two different concepts. Physical custody refers to with parent the child will live with primarily, while legal custody refers to which parent will make decisions on the child’s behalf, including those related to medical matters. Some parents will share legal and physical custody, while other situations may feature one parent being granted sole custody while the other parent has visitation rights. Regardless, you need to be aware of the full legal ramifications of your custody agreement and how this will pertain to financial obligations surrounding your children.

Furthermore, the state in which the parents and the children live can affect the legalities surrounding financial obligations. Some parents may live in the same state as their children; others may move out of state while the children reside with one parent primarily. For example, in Pennsylvania, if a parent moves over an hour away from their child’s primary residence, this is considered a legal relocation.

Keeping in mind these individual factors, let’s consider some of the questions that you may have about your child’s medical costs after your divorce.

Whose Insurance Policy Will Cover Our Kids?

By law, all Americans need to be covered by medical insurance. The question for many divorced parents is whose insurance policy should cover the kids in turn. This can affect how much you pay per month in your premium costs, which furthermore leads to the question of how those costs will be paid off. You will ideally want to come to a decision regarding this issue during your divorce proceedings, as family courts will otherwise make court orders. Beforehand, the courts will look over financial documents and make their orders based on each parent’s financial capability.

Keep in mind that if both parents have health insurance provided by their employers, they will both technically be made available to the children. One will simply be the primary insurance policy and the other will be the secondary insurance policy, which covers any outstanding amount left over after the primary insurance policy pays. Should neither parent have employer-provided insurance, they must then purchase affordable insurance coverage for their children through a private plan. If neither parent is able to provide medical insurance, the child may qualify for state-sponsored coverage through Medicaid or the CHIP program.

What Happens If My Ex Fails to Provide Insurance?

If the court orders one parent to provide medical insurance for their children and they refuse to do so, there are legal options available. The parent that fails to provide health insurance will be responsible for covering all outstanding costs that would have been covered under their insurance plans.

Does My Income Affect How Much I Pay For Medical Expenses?

Yes, your income may determine how much you pay regarding your child’s medical expenses. Much of the division of costs may depend on each parent’s current financial situation. If one parent makes significantly more than the other, they may cover all of the medical costs for their children (including insurance premiums, co-pays, and non-covered expenses). It’s important to remember this when deciding whether or not to have dental insurance for your children, if you need to acquire private plans. Children need to begin orthodontic treatment as young as seven and begin seeing a dentist for the first time in infancy. Dental insurance may not always be cheap, but it’s almost definitely less expensive than paying for your children’s dental costs out-of-pocket.

Parents may also split medical expenses in accordance to their respective incomes. Parents with equal incomes may split the costs evenly, while in some cases one parent may pay 60% of the costs and the other parent may pay 40% of the costs. How much one parent spends housing the children compared to how much the other parent spends on housing costs can also be a contributing factor, as can other child-related expenses.

What If I Claim My Child on My Tax Returns?

One contentious subject for divorced parents, of course, is the the subject of income tax returns. Parents may have differing opinions regarding which parent is allowed to claim the children as dependents on their returns and when — but the parent that does claim the children cannot do so without a catch. They will be required to provide proof of health insurance with the return. Usually, the primary custodial parent claims the children on their tax return, while the non-custodial parent will provide primary health insurance. If the non-custodial parent fails to provide proof of insurance, the custodial parent will have to pay the associated penalty.

Again, each state may have different requirements regarding how costs are split and how divorced parents pay for their children’s medical costs. Furthermore, parents need to not only pay for these costs but agree on elective procedures. Though about 4 million Americans are currently wearing braces according to the American Association of Orthodontists, not all parents will agree on whether or not their children need them. But remember: all debates you have should focus on what is best for your child, emotionally and physically. They are what is most important, and your divorce and post-divorce life will be much easier if you and your ex can come to an agreement about the future as soon as possible.