If ever there’s a time to put petty divorce differences aside to focus on what matters most, co-parenting through a child’s medical issues is that moment! Divorced parents function at all levels of amicability from continuous physical and verbal altercations, to those who barely exchange words, and even those who are actually friends. When a child needs medical attention is not only incredibly stressful, but the situation demands communication, cooperation, and the ability to put the child’s needs before all else.
What steps should you take to maintain peace and endure a child’s medical issue?
1. Make sure that all medical releases are signed to allow both parent’s access to medical records and to communicate with providers (as appropriate to your court orders). In a typical co-parenting arrangement, both parents have the right to know what is happening with the child, to ask questions, and review information.
Naturally, both parents will want to be informed about the child’s status and have the ability to research the problem and ask for updates. Denying either parent access (if there is no legal reason) is only going to fuel a major conflict. Remember, the child in that hospital bed is part of both parents and it is incredibly hard for either parent to see the child in pain. Emotions will run higher, and dirty moves will not be tolerated as well.
2. Hanging out with your ex might not be your idea of a good time, but you better have a good reason to bar them from participating in medical appointments or visiting in the hospital. Your child needs to feel all the love and support possible to suppress the fears and pain being experienced. A parent’s smiling face, hand to hold, or reassuring words can go a long way to make a procedure more tolerable.
My son has had a lot of medical complications since birth, so his dad and I have been by his side through numerous surgeries and hospitalizations. Now that we are divorced, our son still deserves both of our full support. We don’t both necessarily attend all routine appointments, but I always text my ex in advance to let him know when an appointment is. If he’s not able to attend, I give him a summary of the events by phone call or text. He needs to know what has happened as much as I do so he can support our son’s care, so withholding that information would only hurt my son!
Lots of shorter appointments forced us to share waiting and exam rooms and prepared us for a full weekend together last summer when our son had surgery on both feet. Others dropped in to wish our patient well, but it was primarily us pacing the halls during surgery and giving him comfort during recovery. I was the one who stayed overnight with him at the hospital, but his dad was an important figure during his hospitalization.All of that forced time together could have been a recipe for disaster, but the last thing my son needed was for us to be fighting or creating drama at his time of need. Instead, we used the time to discuss our plans for the rest of the summer schedule, how his recovery would be handled, school issues, and so on.
3. Swallow you pride and discomfort if it is best for your child. When my son was released from the hospital, he came straight to my house in double thigh-high casts. He rode in my ex’s car with his step brother because they enjoy one another’s company, and my ex’s car was more comfortable for my son than mine. When they arrived at my home, my husband and my ex carried him up the front steps in his wheelchair, and we all worked together to set him up in the living room to make him comfortable.
Previous to this encounter, my ex had not been inside my home. Our son’s need for assistance made welcoming him in not only necessary, but perfectly natural, in that moment. We continued to break barriers during the recovery phase because my ex and former in-laws wanted to be able to visit our son, and he was pretty much stuck on my couch. This was not the time to pout or let discomfort stand in the way of my son’s right to receive love and care from the rest of his family or to prevent them from showing him their love.
4. If you and your ex should happen to disagree about which doctors to use or proposed care, try to remain calm as the matter is discussed, and make sure that the reasons for disagreement are not at all associated with ill will from the divorce. In other words, don’t argue for the sake of arguing because your child is counting on you to help them access the care they need.
For help in settling these disputes, refer to the source of medical coverage to determine which providers are covered by the medical plan. You can also consult with your state medical board for ratings and records of any disciplinary action against the physicians. You may also be able to use the services of a hospital social worker to mediate the dispute and help both parents assess the pros and cons of care. The social worker may also be able to put you into contact with parent advocates or past patients who can provide references or share their experiences.
5. Payment for care is another aspect of a child’s medical care which can become very sticky and conflict-ridden. I advise you to be well-informed of what your court orders state about what each parent is responsible for. In many cases, one parent is the insurance carrier, and both parents are to share in the cost of co-pays and whatever medical coverage does not take care of.
I am the carrier of insurance for my children because their father is unemployed. As such, I am listed as the responsible party on all paperwork for doctor’s offices and hospitals. I have learned the hard way that I cannot pay my half to the provider and necessarily count on the other half being paid (on time or at all). I tested that method and ended up in collections over an unpaid half of a medical bill, so I have ended up having to pay the full amount to keep me in good graces with the doctors while I pursue my half directly from my ex.
Knock on wood, I have not experienced any of the frustrations with payment of medical bills since I laid down some hardcore boundaries. As previously mentioned, I did not always get cooperation. I tried to “be nice” and offer to let him make payments or even trade me things to make up for his share, but I finally had to go through the motions of taking him to court to get him to pay. He paid me what he owed before the court date, and has been compliant with the court orders ever since. I think he just needed to understand that it was a serious matter and would be taken seriously.