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Prioritizing Children’s Health: A Guide to Medical and Dental Support in Texas

Raising a child is expensive– this is a fact that most parents know. It can be more of a challenge when you are divorced, especially when it comes to medical expenses and decisions.

Divorce is undeniably challenging, especially when it involves the well-being of your growing children. As parents, we want our children to be taken care of, and that involves having access to healthcare and medical support.

Ensuring the health and well-being of your children as their needs evolve is paramount, but can present certain challenges after divorce. We’re here to help with valuable information on obtaining medical and dental support as part of child support after a divorce in Texas.

What Is Child Support in Texas?

Child support in Texas is a legal obligation to financially contribute to the care and upbringing of your children. Enshrined in Texas law, child support is designed to ensure that your children’s needs are met, irrespective of the changing dynamics in your family. The duration of child support payments varies but typically extends until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes later.

Navigating child support can be confusing. In general, child support in Texas is intended to address a child’s fundamental and essential needs, including food, clothing, shelter, public education, medical care, and dental care. As long as the child’s well-being is prioritized and they are not neglected, the parent who receives child support has the flexibility to utilize the funds in a manner they deem suitable. This discretion aims to empower parents to make decisions that best support their child’s growth and development.

Child support can be contributed by either parent individually or jointly. The child support guidelines set by Texas serve as a baseline, indicating the minimum level of support the State assumes to be in the child’s best interest. Nevertheless, many parents find it inadequate to provide for their children’s total care and maintenance. Many choose to supplement this support either voluntarily, as part of the decree or order, or through mutual agreement. Child support can take various forms, including regular periodic (e.g., monthly) payments, a lump sum, or a blend of these options.  

It’s important to note that child support obligations are enforceable by the Court by a variety of means, including a money judgment, garnishment of wages, attachment of property, and contempt.  Basically, not paying child support as ordered by the court can result in jail time.

Types of Medical Support and Dental Support in Texas

Medical support and dental support are forms of child support parents are responsible for providing. There are standard provisions in every order regarding the Parent-Child Relationship that address the who is responsible for providing health and dental insurance, and how the unreimbursed medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance are allocated between the parents.  

A court can mandate a parent to fulfill medical or dental support obligations through various means:

  • Furnishing health or dental insurance for the child.
  • Issuing payments to the other parent to cover the cost of insurance (“cash medical support”).
  • Offering cash medical support if the child is enrolled in Medicaid.

Typically, the parent designated to provide child support (referred to as the “obligor”) is also tasked with furnishing medical and dental insurance. The unreimbursed portion of the child’s health care (e.g., deductibles, copays) is divided between the parents.  It is common that these unreimbursed medical expenses are split 50/50, but the parties can agree or the court can order a different allocation based upon the parents’ income.  

Medical and Dental Support at “Reasonable Cost“

With sky rocketing health insurance costs, it is important to note that the “obligor” for child support who is also providing health insurance does have a cap on the amount he or she can be required to pay for premiums.  Under Texas law, a parent cannot be required to pay more than the “reasonable cost” of health insurance.  The Texas Family Code defines  “reasonable cost” such that the obligor’’s contribution to health insurance should not exceed 9 percent of their gross annual income, while dental coverage should not surpass 1.5 percent of their gross annual income.

In most instances, at least one parent will have access to child health insurance options via their employers. If both parents have health insurance available, then it is prudent for the parents to compare not only the cost of the premium, but also the scope of services covered, the costs of the unreimbursed medical expenses, and whether the child’s current providers are in network.  Another important factor that should be considered when choosing health insurance plans, is whether or not a job change is likely in the near future.  Changing jobs can result in resetting the deductibles, and can result in additional expenses.  Of course, unexpected job changes may happen during the year, and that’s okay. Typically the obligor will have the choice of determining whether they want to enroll the children in the health insurance available through their employer, or through the other parent’s available health insurance plans.  

Certain families might explore government-assisted programs for assistance. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services outlines that families with lower income levels may qualify for child health insurance coverage through either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

How Can I Get Medical and Dental Support for my child?

Medical support and dental support can be judicially mandated through:

  • Divorce proceedings.
  • Custody cases, recognized as Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR).
  • Paternity cases.
  • Modification cases, applicable when an existing court order concerning the child is already established.

Ensuring that your children receive the medical and dental care they need requires a collaborative effort. To obtain medical and dental support, you can work with your family law attorney to include these provisions in your divorce agreement.

Reimbursement for Uninsured Medical Expenses

Most custody orders in Texas include very detailed provisions for how parents get reimbursed for unreimbursed medical expenses, so it is important to review your orders.  But generally, there are some important guidelines for making sure you get reimbursed for your out of pocket costs for keeping your children healthy.

  1. If you are using a provider who is outside of the insurance network (this is common for therapists and orthodontists), you need to make sure you have the other parent’s agreement in writing (email or text message may suffice) before incurring costs;
  2. Make sure you turn over the required documents to the other party, to establish your right to reimbursement.  These documents include:  the invoice (showing services provided), the receipt for payment, and the Explanation of Benefit (EOB) from your insurance provider.
  3. Make sure you turn over this information in a timely manner.  Many orders provide that if you provide the other parent with the required information within 30 days of incurring the expense, the other parent is obligated to reimburse you within 30 days.  However, if you sit on a pile of expenses and turn them over after 30 days has passed, the other side will have 120 days to reimburse you.
  4. Track Track Track.  Using a spreadsheet like the one we’ve provided is a good way to make sure you stay on top of medical expenses.  And, if you end up needing to enforce this provision, a spreadsheet like the one attached will help your lawyer tremendously.

Can Medical and Dental Child Support Be Changed?

While Texas provides guidelines for child support calculations, there’s room for flexibility to cater to your family’s unique circumstances and to accommodate changes, such as changes in income or insurance eligibility. As discussed above, a job change is one circumstance that may require that the children enroll in health insurance through the other parent’s available plans. It’s essential to consult with a family law attorney to navigate this modification process and determine what adjustments may be necessary based on factors such as income, medical needs, and other relevant considerations.

What If the Parent Responsible Doesn’t Pay Medical Support?

Dealing with unpaid medical and dental support can be distressing, especially when you’re already shouldering the challenges of divorce and co-parenting. In such situations, seeking legal assistance is your best course of action. Your family law attorney can help ask the court to enforce the terms of your divorce agreement, ensuring that your children’s health remains a top priority.  Child support obligations, including the costs of medical care, are dealt with seriously by our legal system, and failure to pay those obligations can eventually result in jail time.

It’s important to note that the law does not authorize a parent to prevent the other parent from seeing their children due to non-payment of child support. Similarly, a parent cannot cease child support payments based solely on disagreement with how the custodial parent utilizes the funds, unless concrete evidence of child neglect is presented.

The Importance of Medical Support after a divorce

Children are resilient, but they do experience the ailments and illnesses everyone does. As a single parent, facing the emotional and financial challenges of a sick child can feel overwhelming. Having to deal with treatment costs on your own is an added burden. This is an area where it is crucial to consult with a family law attorney to ensure that you understand your rights and to help you ask the court for adequate support.

We understand that the journey of divorce is never easy, and the complexities of medical and dental support can add an additional layer of stress. At Hargrave Family Law, we’re not just legal professionals; we’re compassionate advocates who genuinely care about your family’s well-being.

If you need legal guidance and assistance with child support, including medical and dental support, reach out to us. As parents ourselves, we know how valuable it is to have someone on our side who is not only capable of advocating for your rights but can also deeply empathize with your experience.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you ask for the support you need to ensure your children’s health and happiness. As you and your children embark on this new chapter of your lives, let our team walk alongside you to help ensure your children get the support they deserve.