In Wisconsin, divorcing parents are going to have to make several decisions regarding their children. Their parenting plan will contain terms such as how legal custody and placement will work and may include additional agreements such as who the child’s doctors will be. Ordinarily, one parent maintains the child’s health insurance and both parents will contribute equally to that premium, and the parents will then equally divide any of their children’s out-of-pocket medical costs. However, what happens if your child develops a severe mental health condition? You may ask: Is my Ex responsible for my child’s mental health expenses?
Medical Costs and Expenses
In general, both parties will be obligated to pay for their child’s medical expenses, including mental health care. If your child is seeing a psychiatrist, takes medication, or requires in-patient or out-patient hospitalization, all of these costs are medical in nature and the responsibility of both parties. When a patient sees a non-medical therapist, the nature of the expense may be less clear, depending on how the divorce decree is written. However, if the child’s medical doctor recommended therapy and referred him or her to a non-medical professional, it is likely that the expense would be qualifying. If the custodial parent has taken the child to a non-traditional therapist outside of the medical model and without the other parent’s consent, there may be less of a compelling argument that the other party owes “medical expenses.” This may be especially true if the other parent objected to the treatment and voiced disagreement with incurring the costs. Remember, in joint custody arrangements, both parents must consent to medical care. Without joint consent, it may be hard to convince the court that the excluded (or non-consenting) parent should be liable for the costs. (If your ex is particularly non-consenting or has a habit or being dismissive of doctor referrals, consider petitioning the court for the custodial right to make medical decisions for your child. The court wants to make sure your child’s medical needs are tended to, so if you can show your ex isn’t taking those seriously, it may be time to ask for ultimate decision-making power on medical issues.)
Before the Divorce is Over
The majority of divorce cases are settled outside of the courtroom, and therefore, the terms are often developed by the parties and their attorneys. When you are negotiating, it would be best to work with your attorney to make sure you include a medical expense term that is drafted in a way that includes potential mental health conditions. You and your counsel could examine your circumstances determine what is needed and plan for any future possibilities.
After the Divorce
If your child’s condition did not develop until after the divorce, you may have grounds to return to the court to seek a modification of your child support order. Wisconsin law provides that if there has been a substantial change in a child’s circumstances, including his or her health, the parties may have grounds to return to court to consider changing the support order. The court and law are focused on ensuring that both parents are meeting their child’s essential needs. Evidence that a child has a serious mental health condition may warrant a change that would clarify each parent’s responsibility to pay for any associated expenses.