Going through a divorce when there are child custody and support issues can be complicated. California law mandates that parents must provide appropriate medical and dental care for their children, which can include health insurance. Who pays and how much they pay varies from case to case. In some situations, the about-to-be-exes negotiate this up front and have it as part of the written parenting plan they present to the court. In other situations, the court determines how health insurance and medical care costs will be handled. Here are some general guidelines. Call one of our offices below to learn more about the specifics of your case.

When One or Both Parents Have Health Insurance Through Their Work

People who have health insurance through their employer are usually able to keep their children on the policy until the child turns 25. When both parents have employer-based health insurance, the standard practice is to select one of the plans as the primary insurance and the other as secondary, with the latter paying any balances not covered by the primary. That said, there are also situations where each parent keeps the child on their insurance without designating one as primary so that if there’s an emergency, they can simply use their own insurance and not have to sort out the details.

If the non-custodial parent is the one with the health insurance, they will most likely be required to keep the child on that insurance.

When Neither Parent Has Health Insurance Through Their Work

If neither parent is enrolled in a health insurance policy through work, the courts require the parents to purchase a health insurance policy to cover the child. If they can’t afford one, the child may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid.

Which Parent Will Be Responsible for the Health Insurance and Medical Expenses for the Child?

If one parent has health insurance through work and the other doesn’t, the parent with employer-based insurance is likely going to keep the child on that policy. How additional expenses are allotted can depend on the financial situation of each parent. If one parent stays home to raise the child, they’re less likely to be responsible for paying out-of-pocket costs than the parent who works. If both parents work, but one makes considerably more money than the other, the latter may be required to pay most or all of the expenses. When salaries are similar, expenses may be divided between them.

In some cases, the amount of child support one parent pays the other may be calculated to include medical expenses. That means the parent receiving child support payments is expected to pay those expenses.

What if the Parent Who Is Supposed to Provide Health Insurance for the Child Doesn’t?

If one parent has been ordered to provide health insurance for the child but fails to do so, they could be ordered to pay any expenses that occur because of the lack of insurance. That includes doctor visits, medical tests, routine check-ups, or urgent care or emergency visits. Those costs can quickly rise far above what health insurance premiums would cost. It could also lead to other legal woes.

Which Parent Pays Out-of-Pocket Medical Expenses?

This varies from case to case and is often related to the financial situation of each parent. When there’s a disparity in income levels, the medical expenses might be divided proportionally between them. Another option, as mentioned above, is building them into child support payments. Some parents opt to divide overall expenses, with one parent handling most of the daily living expenses while the other handles medical expenses. The bottom line is that California law requires that children receive adequate health care, which the parents must provide and pay for.

What if There Was Child-Related Medical Debt Before the Divorce?

In California, spouses are equally liable for any debt incurred during the marriage. That includes medical debt that happened due to the child sustaining injuries or illness. The debt is part of the marital property and must be addressed as part of the divorce.

Does the Court Have the Final Say on All Health Insurance and Medical Expenses Issues Connected to the Child?

In a sense, yes, because if the parents cannot come to an agreement, the court will step in and determine how the child’s health insurance and medical expenses will be paid. However, parents often can negotiate (either directly with each other or working with a mediator) how these expenses and obligations will be handled as part of the parenting plan they develop while determining child custody. This isn’t always possible, especially in a contentious divorce. But if it can be achieved, it can result in a smoother, calmer legal process. It can also help the parents feel committed to the plan, which can lead to a more harmonious relationship overall–something that’s definitely beneficial to the child.

How Can I Learn More About My Child’s Health Insurance and Medical Care Responsibilities?

Call us at 949-542-6209 (Newport Beach) or 714-542-6200 (Santa Ana) for a free 30-minute in-depth case evaluation. Every divorce is unique, and we have the experience and knowledge to help you through the specifics of your case. There are many aspects to determining financial responsibility for a child’s health care, and we want to guide you to the best possible outcome for the child in your life.