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Help! My Ex Is Trying to Stick Me With Our Kids’ Medical Bills

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Can a collection agency come after you for your children’s medical bills, even if you didn’t sign anything agreeing to be responsible for them? One of our readers asks:

My fiancé has children with his ex-wife. She will bring the children to the doctor or hospital and list him as being responsible. He pays for their individual medical plans and child support. Since he did not sign the hospital forms what do we do? We have called the hospital to request the forms proving he did not sign them and they refer us to call the collection company. We ask them for the forms and are told call the hospital. We have written letters to both asking them to be removed from his credit to no avail. What do you suggest we do now?

There are two issues here: one is the parent’s responsibility to the providers for their children’s medical bills and the other is the financial responsibilities between the spouses.

“Parents are on the hook,” when it comes to their kids’ medical bills, says collection attorney Lloyd D. Dix. Parents are required to take care of their children’s essential care — including medical care — and ultimately both parents can be held responsible for these costs, he says.

That may hold true even if the parent didn’t sign anything, says Chi Chi Wu, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. She explains that there are legal doctrines that come into play such as Quantum Meruit, which says that the provider is entitled to get paid for his or her services; or state “doctrines of necessaries” that hold parents responsible for essential bills such as medical care.

So as far as the provider is concerned, they may try to collect from both parents.

What About a Divorce Decree?

If the parents have agreed that one of them will pay the medical bills in a divorce decree, for example, then they can share that with the medical provider who may decide to just pursue the responsible spouse for the bills. But don’t count on it.

“The agreement between the parents is irrelevant when it comes to both parents being financially responsible to pay the providers for their children’s medical care,” warns Florida family law attorney Jane Windsor. “If you think about this from a public policy standpoint, medical care is really not a right that one parent can waive on behalf of their child with the other parent. This is a right that actually belongs to the child. So it won’t matter what the divorce decree says.”

Unfortunately, in this case the damage to our reader’s fiance’s credit reports has already been done. He might try asking the providers to pull the accounts back from collections so he can pay the providers directly and hopefully get them removed from his credit reports as a result. But that’s something of a long shot — especially with multiple accounts.

If he’s not successful, he may be able to settle them for less than the full balance owed. Paying or settling collection accounts won’t help his credit scores in the short term, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about being sued for the balances.

Keeping an Eye on Your Credit

He should also monitor his credit reports and scores to make sure he is alerted to any future collection accounts that show up so he can try to resolve them as quickly as possible. Some collectors won’t report medical bills if they are paid right away; though again, there’s no guarantee. (Credit.com’s Credit Report Card lets you monitor your credit score for changes — for free — to see if there are any problems with your credit.)

And, since the fiance is paying for the children’s insurance, he should make sure he reviews all the Explanations of Benefits (EOBs) from the insurance company to find out if there are other providers who have billed for services but haven’t been paid in full.

“If one (parent) does not pay, the medical care provider can hold them both responsible until the bill is paid in full…meaning the other ex-spouse will have to pay the bill if they don’t want it to affect their credit score,” says Winsdor.

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  • Gerri Detweiler

    Good point Michelle. Thanks!

  • Rick

    The article did a great job identifying the issue for ways to
    prevent the problem in the first place. Once they have the EOB for the child contact the medical provider and get the billing information directly to make sure that nothing is due. If there is, then they need to contact the ex-spouse to arrange payment. If
    the ex-spouse is not providing bills for the medical visits and not paying he may need to file for contempt of the court order. He also needs to read his order because in some jurisdictions the responsible party must forward to the other parent a copy of the EOB with in a specified time frame.

    For medical bills that he wasn’t notified about and have been
    sent to collections, immediately dispute it first with collection agency by certified mail not on the phone. After contact the hospital or medical provider directly by certified mail if they aren’t getting anywhere by phone, to have the debt returned to the medical provider. If it is a hospital send a letter directly to the
    hospital administrator and send a copy to the state regulatory agency that regulates the hospital. If it is a private practice or a medical group file a complaint with BBB. The provider is entitled to
    get paid but they also have too properly bill and send it to the responsible party. The contact information for the
    responsible party is on the forms that are filled out before the service is provided. The damage to his credit is not done. If he had no prior knowledge of the debt he needs to fight aggressively to have it removed and sent back to the medical provider. If this entails filing formal complaints, taking them to small claims court or contacting a local consumer reporter then so be it.

  • naomi

    What if we are not married and I had no idea my child was even seen in the emergency room and I carry the primary insurance?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It really isn’t an issue of whether you are married; the issue is whether this is your child. As the parent and the primary insurance holder you’ll likely be responsible to the provider. You certainly risk collection if the bill doesn’t get paid.

      • L. Van Hulle

        What if the child is a stepchild and the couple divorced? Can the ex-step father even get proof from the doctor that he even paid those bills?

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          @L Van Hulle I am sorry – not sure I understand what you are asking.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    The question of which parent was there when services were rendered isn’t really relevant, as best we understand it. Do you and the other parent have a written agreement about who pays for what? In general, an adult has to sign a consent form for treatment for a minor child.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Wow – thanks for sharing that experience.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I wish I could help but tax problems like that just aren’t my area of expertise.

  • Geebus

    Here’s one.

    My Wife’s ex husband is required to hold medical insurance for his child. He doesn’t. So, I carry insurance on the child so we don’t get nailed for Obamacare taxes at the end of the year.

    Can I send an invoice to the ex-husband for the medical expense I pay?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      That depends on the terms of your agreement with your ex.

      • Geebus

        It isn’t my ex.

        I’m married to a woman whose ex-husband is responsible for paying for healthcare costs for his child (that lives with us) according to their divorce decree. He doesn’t pay for health insurance for the child. So I, (the step father) pay for the child’s health insurance so my family doesn’t get dinged for Obamacare “taxes”.

        Can I bill the Father for the insurance that I pay for since it is his responsibility?

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          I wish I had a clear cut answer, but you’ll have to talk with your wife’s divorce attorney about how to enforce their agreement. (And keep in mind, billing him is one thing – collecting is another.)

  • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

    Hi worried —

    This sounds like something you should sit down with your divorce attorney to discuss, as certain parts of your divorce decree may stipulate who can claim the kids as dependents and which bills you’re each responsible for. Unfortunately, we can’t offer legal advice.

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