Ask a Divorce Lawyer: My ex is hiding my son’s medical condition though I keep paying for it. What can I legally do?

Question: I have two twin sons (17 years old) who live in New Jersey with their mother, my ex-wife. She does not have a kind word to say to me and I can only get yes and no answers from her when I call. 

This past month, I received an EOB from Blue Cross stating my son was taken to the hospital. Since then he has been seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist, and I have no idea why. When I call my e-wife she says he’s depressed. The doctor will not return my calls, the school counselor will not return my calls, Blue Cross says he is over 16 and cannot tell me what is going on. 

This past Saturday, I received another EOB stating that he was again taken to the hospital, and all my ex-wife would say is that he had chest pains. I have always and still am paying child support, in addition to all medical bills, insurance, etc. What legal action, if any, do I have to at least find out what is going on with my children?

Answer:

Because I am licensed to practice law in Michigan, I can only give you general information, and I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney in your state. You should not rely upon this information as creating an attorney-client relationship, and you should seek counsel in your area for further instructions and suggestions within the parameters of the laws of your state. 

That being said, in general, parents who share custody are required to keep each other informed of their children’s important life decisions. Your particular custody order will define what, if any, rights and obligations you have. 

In Michigan, for example, courts awarding “joint legal custody” (joint decision-making power) require each parent to notify the other parent if a child has a serious illness in that parent’s care, to consult with each other before making surgery decisions, and so forth. There are a few qualifications based on the facts you have provided, however – first, given their ages, federal law protects your children’s healthcare information from disclosure, and, second, the act of paying child support does not ipso facto give you the right to know what the support is for.  

While you may not be able to compel your son to divulge his healthcare information, you may be able to compel your ex-wife to communicate with you. Your custody order will affect how much you can compel, if anything. Pay particular attention to provisions in the order that require advance notice of and/or consultation concerning medical decisions for your children. These are court-ordered obligations, and your ex-wife may be held in contempt if she ignores them. 

You should consult with an attorney in your area to discuss what options, if any, you have based on the particular order language and facts in your case.   

 

Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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