Under the law, when parents divorce or separate, both parents can be responsible for the cost of their child’s dental care, including braces. As a result, very often, divorcing parents enter into a written agreement stating how much each will contribute, usually in the form of a percentage.
In addition, or in other cases, there may be a Court Order or Judgment of Divorce which states that Dad will pay a specific percentage of the cost of braces. Unfortunately, all too often, many Dads don’t pay their percentage, leaving Moms to scramble to get the funds, negotiate with the Orthodontist, or even stop taking their child for treatment all together.
Ultimately however, no matter what percentage Dad is required to pay to Mom, if only Mom has signed up the child for treatment, as a legal matter, only she is responsible for the cost of treatment to the Orthodontist, and she will have to later seek reimbursement from Dad. The Orthodontist has no legal obligation to uphold your Agreement or Court Order, nor any duty to get payment from your ex. Sadly as a result, the relationship between Mom and the Orthodontist may suffer, making what should be a wonderful experience for the child into a tense ordeal.
What can a mom do? What are her rights? How can she protect herself?
1. Moms, you must involve Dad in the process before you start! Do not think that just because your Agreement says he has to pay 50% that he will actually do so. There may be some other language that requires you to involve him which you may not even realize, but in any event, if you want to protect yourself, you must involve him as follows:
- Tell him your child needs braces (Yes, even if you think he already “knows”). Send him an email, text or letter stating that he or she needs braces and an approximate time frame of when this will happen. Do not say, “Johnny needs braces and he’s getting them tomorrow.”
- Tell him who the Orthodontist is and what the cost is.
- Schedule an Appointment with him and if you cannot stand to be with him or if you have an Order of Protection, have him make his own appointment to see the Orthodontist. Explain the situation to your Orthodontist.
- Provide any and all information that you receive as to payment and make sure that you are giving him timely notices of payments due.
2. Make sure that Dad signs the contract for the braces. As a legal matter Dad may owe you money for braces, but he will not owe the Orthodontist one cent if he does not have a contract with him.
3. Be clear that there is an actual legal obligation for Dad to pay and how much. Some Agreements may be poorly or vaguely drafted and not specify the words “braces” exactly or establish what percentage he has to pay. These things can be clarified or corrected but you must know what issue or problem you might have and you must know what your Agreement or Order specifically provides.
4. If Dad disagrees that your child needs braces, refuses to meet the Orthodontist or sign a contract then send him another email or letter documenting his disagreement or refusal and tell him you will take him to Court to enforce your right.
5. Take him to Court! If Dad is showing any resistance or not cooperating, you must not wait. Do not make the mistake of hurrying to sign your child up with the Orthodontist, paying for everything (or expecting your Orthodontist to only accept your payment) and then taking him to Court in the end.