Medical Expenses – Getting the Other Parent to Pay their Fair Share

by Sharon Corsentino

When considering whether to file an enforcement action to collect past due unreimbursed medical expenses from the parent of your child, it is important to have everything in order prior to filing. To enforce orders of the court, you must be very specific about each violation the opposing party has allegedly committed.

The clients who are most successful in obtaining a judgment for the full amount they are claiming are the ones who keep impeccable records. While it is quite a burdensome task, it can definitely pay off in the long run.

My advice to clients is to treat your child’s unreimbursed medical expenses like a business.

  1. Open a separate file for the receipts.
  2. Keep a spreadsheet of when you gave notice of the expense to the other party and whether it was paid.
  3. Keep copies of emails or letters you send to the other party notifying them of the unreimbursed expenses.
  4. If you send a notice letter via U.S. mail and it is returned to you as undeliverable, keep the letter unopened. Make a notation on a sticky note to identify the contents of the letter.

It is also very important that you do not hoard the receipts. Send the receipts to the opposing party in a timely manner using the time frames set out in the order. Do not wait to just send them to the opposing party on an annual, semi-annual, or quarterly basis. You must make certain that you are complying with the terms of the orders so that if the opposing party fails to reimburse you, then you can enforce the order.

Sharon Corsentino is an experienced Collaborative attorney, mediator and litigator at Albin | Harrison | Roach in Plano, Texas. She works primarily in the areas of family law, probate, and estate planning. Sharon helps couples to settle their disputes privately, without involving a judge who could impose decisions on them that do not meet their needs. Sharon’s non-adversarial approach generally results in unique settlements that truly address the interests and concerns of all parties.

Christmas is finally here. For millions of Americans, Christmas is simply the most wonderful time of the year. But if you are in the middle of a divorce or child-custody modification, you may have discovered that reindeer aren’t the only ones who are playing games:

1. Perhaps you just received an “Ex-text” informing you for the first time that the kids are heading out-of-state for Christmas with their dad and his new girlfriend; or

2. Maybe it is your year to have the children for the holidays but the other parent has asked you to switch periods and has already told the little ones that they can all go snow skiing — but only *if* you allow them to go; or

3. The courts have already closed and the lawyers have failed to work out a temporary arrangement for this holiday season.

Examples like these have spoiled more than one Christmas dinner in recent years. If you find yourself without the kids this year because of your ex’s gamesmanship, how should you respond? What should you do?

Of course, you always have the typical litigation option: File a motion, set a hearing, and make ’em pay for stealing Christmas. But before you do that you might consider taking a step back and thinking for a moment about what your overall long-term goals are for your children.

Most parents genuinely want to protect their children from the worst aspects of divorce and post-divorce life. What many fail to recognize, however, is how quickly they allow themselves to step onto the Crazy Cycle with the other parent over one issue or another. Whether the issue is about taking a trip with the girlfriend or trying to manipulate a possession schedule, once the parents step onto the Crazy Cycle, they lose sight of the greater injury they are inflicting on their own children. The parents have just placed the children squarely at the epicenter of the conflict. Divorce litigation usually makes bad situations like these worse, because litigation enables, and even encourages, adversarial conflict. Parents usually don’t recognize that fact until the damage has already been done.

Whatever the outcome of the particular issue or the judicial punishments that follow, the kids wind up with the lumps of coal in their stockings. And regardless of whether the children actually witness the argument(s) between the parents, they will be impacted — because you, the parent, have been impacted. Unfortunately for the kids, they will bear those emotional scars long after you have forgotten about the issue that started the conflict.

If your goal for the children really is to minimize their exposure to the harmful effects of divorce, consider developing a new, more effective set of communication skills in dealing with your ex. There is no quick fix or magic pill, of course. It will be a process.

Counseling can help those not currently involved in litigation. But for those in the midst of family law litigation, the Collaborative Law approach focuses on resolving family conflict in a respectful way while shielding the children from it. By design, this approach enables couples to communicate more effectively, both during the process, and afterward.

With time, patience, and practice, you and the other parent can learn to avoid the Crazy Cycle, stop playing games that hurt the children, and start truly co-parenting.

Three Things You Should Not Do in a Divorce

Curtis Harrison is a Plano-based attorney with the law firm of Albin | Harrison | Roach. He is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law and is a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

After sixteen years of practicing family law in and out of the courtroom I like to think I’ve seen or heard just about everything. Of course, that’s hyperbole, but the truth is that clients have a hard time surprising me anymore. And I have noticed over the years that even the most gentle and considerate of people fall prey to the universal human instinct for survival when faced with a divorce. This instinct can temporarily override common decency, parental wisdom, and even rationality.

Why is this? Almost without exception, folks facing the prospect of a separation or divorce feel extraordinary pressures. Those pressures are usually rooted in fear: fear the unknown; fear of the perceived lack of control over the future; and fear of how decisions others make during the divorce will affect them. These fears drive many divorcing couples to make terrible mistakes that will haunt them and their children for years to come. Some of the mistakes are made long before either spouse consults with a divorce attorney.

While the list of “do’s and don’ts” is long and detailed, here are three fundamental things you should not do in a divorce:

  1. Don’t involve the kids
  2. Don’t make unilateral decisions
  3. Don’t “over-lawyer”

Don’t Involve the Kids

Although this should be obvious, it is one of the most of the common – and by far the most tragic – mistake that I see couples make. Examples abound:

  • Mom and Dad cannot or will not contain their so-called “adult conversations” (arguing) in the presence of the children.
  • Dad picks up the kids to take them for the weekend and Mom tells the children she will miss them terribly instead of encouraging them to have a great time.
  • Mom is forced to tighten the budget at home out of necessity while Dad, who has recently moved into a bachelor-pad apartment, starts lavishing the children with Wii’s, off-road bicycles, and trips to Disney.

All of these examples, and countless others, place the children squarely on the chessboard of the divorce. The parents — whether they realize it or not — have made their own children the pawns in the chess match. And we all know what happens to the pawns in chess.

Don’t do it.

Don’t Make Unilateral Decisions

Cleaning out bank accounts, buying a new car, and leaving town with the kids are all examples of decisions most people would never consider making without discussing with their spouse. Yet, faced with divorce, that little voice in our head we call common sense seems to take a vacation. Making important decisions that affect others without discussing it with them virtually guarantees you a quick trip to the courthouse for a contested hearing.

Don’t do it.

Don’t Over-Lawyer

You can tell a lot from a name.

I frequently meet with potential clients who have already been served with a divorce suit and I have learned that you can discern a great deal about how ugly and expensive a divorce is going to be simply by looking to see who the other lawyer is. Individual lawyers have individualized reputations, and if a spouse wants to hire a Rambo-style litigator it is not difficult to find one.

Why do people in this day still seek out that kind of lawyers? Fear, grief, and anger are powerful emotions. Those emotions often drive otherwise rational people to make decisions that are not in their own best interests, much less in the best interest of their family. Ironically, folks who seek out the Rambos typically do so either to (i) get their “fair share”; or to (ii) get their pound of flesh. There really aren’t any other reasons.

The irony is that they will pay a $25,000 initial retainer to Rambo to fight for a larger piece of what is left over after he has picked over the carcass of your estate instead of seeking out an attorney with a reputation for problem solving that charges significantly less. As for getting the pound of flesh, nothing is free: Every pound of flesh you “acquire” will cost you something. That something could be the nest egg,  the children’s emotional well-being, or bitterness in the person’s heart that reduces  his or her quality of life for years to come.

Don’t do it.

Fortunately, there are qualified professionals in the industry who are trained to help couples end their marriage without scorching each other, the children, or the estate. If you would like more information about available options when it comes to divorce, including the Collaborative Law option, please feel free to visit our website, or contact me by email.

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