Brace yourself...Child support may not cover the costs of dental expenses
One of the most important concerns that a parent may have is how they ensure that their children receive proper medical care. Everyone understands that children get sick and need to see a doctor. If asked, most parents would agree that their children need to see the dentist. Many of us have experienced that most dental work other than routine cleanings can be rather expenses. For those of us lucky enough to never have needed braces though, we have been taught by television and movies that the expenses for braces and orthodontia can be obscene. But the bigger question for many single parents or divorced/divorcing parents is who is responsible for paying for braces? And related, doesn't my child support payments cover my responsibility toward braces?
The short answer is no, child support will not likely pay for all of braces.
Child support in New Jersey paid consistent with the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines covers unreimbursed health care (including dental expenses) up to and including $250.00 per child per year. These are generally considered ordinary medical expenses, such as non-prescription drugs, co-pays or health care services, equipment and products. Said another way, the parent who receives child support will be responsible for the first $250.00 of these expenses per year per child.
So, yes child support will pay a portion of braces....up to that $250.00 per year. Otherwise, it is fair to say child support will be unlikely to cover the entire costs for braces. This leads to the most important issue...
Who DOES have to pay for the rest of the braces?
Generally, in New Jersey, parents will be responsible to pay for unreimbursed medical and dental expenses for their children. But before grabbing your check book, it is important to confirm that the braces are a reasonable and necessary medical expense, meaning that the child actually needs the braces and are not purely for vanity. If the matter were to be submitted to the court, a judge would heavily weigh a child’s need for braces considering each parent’s financial circumstances. In my experience, most courts find that if an Orthodontist is recommending braces for a child, the child should not be penalized for their parents’ financial concerns about obtaining braces even if it means some sacrifice on behalf of the parents.
What portion of the costs for braces and other medical expenses need to be paid by mom or dad will depend on what is written in your custody agreement/Orders or divorce agreement. If there is no agreement or prior Orders, the court will review both parties' finances and make a determination of the respective abilities to pay. It is important to keep in mind that the court's determination of your ability to pay will often be substantially different from what you believe your ability to pay is.
Because the Court will look at your custody agreements/Orders or divorce agreement first, it is critical that you have the advice of an attorney to ensure that you have protected yourself and your children. In some circumstances, the parents may agree to just split these expenses by each paying 50%. However, more often than not, if the court is asked to make the decision, the Court will look at the parties’ gross income and one parent may find that they are responsible for a far greater share. Making sure that your divorce agreement or custody agreement is clear with the obligations of each party will ensure that you and your children are protected.
It is important to remember that Child Support is NOT the only money that your children will need throughout their lives. There are always expenses that arise beyond what the Child Support Guidelines consider and "cover." While this may seem unfair, it is simply impossible for everything to be included in child support calculations.
Do not hesitate to contact our office to discuss how to address expenses for your children and child support concerns. 732-867-8894