Ask a Divorce Lawyer: Should I have to pay medical bills when my ex didn’t keep me informed of the decisions?

Question: I am court-ordered to provide insurance for my son. My ex wife has physical custody and we also have joint legal custody. We are to share the medical bills equally after insurance has paid their part. She has never used my insurance, and has never told me about any of our son’s doctor bills. 

After 3 years of divorce, she now tells me that she would like for me to repay her for all of our son’s past medical bills. I have a few receipts and nowhere does it show that she used my insurance; she was using Medicaid and her new husband’s insurance, and then paying the rest out of her pocket (I am assuming). Our divorce decree does not give a timeline of when she is to give me the bills or when I am to pay them. 

Am I required to pay these bills (which are all in her name) if she never told me about them and has never used the court order for my insurance? I want to do what is right, but how can she be allowed to take our son to a doctor every month and never tell me about it, but then later ask me to pay her for my half?

Answer:

Unfortunately, your problem is common. Whether it is a symptom of ambiguous order language, sloppy recording keeping, lack of communication, or more, divorced or separated parents frequently argue over who is responsible for what share of the children’s uninsured healthcare costs, if any. I gather from the information you provided that your problem is a bit of all three – ambiguous language (your order has no procedure for submitting bills for reimbursement), sloppy recordkeeping (no or few bills) and lack of communication (sometimes, your ex did not advise you of your child’s medical appointments).

You risk contempt of court if you do not follow your order. However, you risk overpaying if you write a check for one-half the costs your ex says you incurred. So, what should you do? I suggest the following: 1. Did your ex keep you informed of medical decisions? If not, you might be successful in a motion to hold her in contempt for violating your legal custody rights. 2. Has your wife filed a motion to compel payment? Try arguing that “laches” (an equitable defense to a claim that means, essentially, the party seeking redress waited too long and it is inequitable to grant relief now) or poor record keeping should prevent her from seeking reimbursement. 3. Are you both fighting about the actual costs? Consider filing a motion for an accounting with your court. 

I strongly encourage you to consult with a lawyer in your area to learn which, if any or more, option is best for you. Keep in mind that I am a Michigan attorney and cannot give you detailed advice about the laws in Mississippi. You should not rely on this answer as establishing an attorney-client relationship. Thank you for submitting a question to Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

 

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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