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Friday, August 9, 2013

The Company You Keep

People say you if lay down with dogs you’re going to wake up with fleas.  While offensive to my dogs, who have always been flea free (knock on wood), this theory holds true with respect to who you expose your children to.

Just because you divorce or separate from your significant other, no one expects you to become a hermit or monk, never to go out or date again.  However, the courts do expect you to make smart choices about who you choose to fraternize with if you have children. 

When clients tell me they started dating again, especially during the divorce, I immediately ask if he has a criminal record and if he has met the kids.  People make mistakes and sometimes the past really is left behind, so it’s probably not going to cause any concern if you start planning picnics with your new boyfriend and the kids, even if he had a joyriding conviction at age 18.

Then there’s the person who chooses to date a man twice convicted of domestic violence or let a friend who’s facing a drug charge move in to help pay the rent.  If you don’t have kids, chances are good no one but your parents and friends are going to judge you.  However, when your ex comes over for parenting time, he will notice that “I just went to a Jimmy Buffet concert” smell wafting from your new roommate’s space and start asking questions.  Pretty soon these questions lead to an internet criminal record search and a trip to an attorney’s office.

Even if you don’t expose your children to your new questionable friend, your poor decisions impact your kids – if you can’t make good choices for yourself, there’s concern you won’t make good choices for your kids either.  This can be even more concerning if your past contains some of the same mistakes and activities (i.e. drug use, alcohol abuse).

Depending on the seriousness of the criminal charges or convictions, your ex may very well be justified in filing a motion with the court for a no contact order between your children and Mr. or Ms. Not So Perfect, or it could go as far as a change in parenting time and custody.  I have seen courts order supervised parenting time, suspend parenting time, or set the matter for a more in depth hearing to determine the outcome, all because of the company one parent chose to keep.

For most people, exposing their children to a violent person or someone with a lengthy criminal record would not be an option under any circumstance.  However, emotions can definitely cloud one’s judgment, and the need for rental income can be very tempting when you go from a double to single income household.  If you do choose to make new friends with some unsavory characters, remember that the courts have to look out for the best interest of your children, especially if it appears you are not.

Medical Reimbursement - Watch the clock

The worst part about getting your mail every day is the prospect that it contains bills – and if you or your children have health concerns, it can make walking to the mailbox more like walking the plank. 

Most divorce judgments and child support orders contain a provision where the parents have to divide the cost of unreimbursed medical expenses for the children.  Typically, the parent who receives child support has to pay a certain amount of money out of pocket, called an “ordinary medical expense,” before the other parent’s percentage towards the unreimbursed costs commences.  At present, the 2013 amounts are:  $357 per year for one child, $715 for two, $1,072 for three, $1,430 for four, and $1,787 for five or more children.

If an ordinary medical expense is included in your court order, the parent paying support is actually contributing to this annual amount each month in his child support based on a percentage determined by the child support formula.  Even if you don’t reach the out of pocket amounts, you don’t have to return the money to the parent paying support.

Let’s say you pay the ordinary medical expense before the year runs out, and you now want your ex to pony up his percentage towards unreimbursed medical costs for your child.  How do you go about doing this the right way?

Naturally, there’s a form for this, called “Client Demand for Medical Payment” (SCAO Form FOC 13a) and instructions as well – you can conveniently find these on the Jackson County Friend of the Court’s webpage.  Fill out the forms appropriately, and be sure to attach all supporting documentation so there’s no question that your ex owes that amount or that you have paid your portion.

One of the biggest problems people face is waiting too long to ask for the reimbursement – there are of course time limits on basically everything in the law.  The magic number is 28 days – you have to request the payment from your ex within 28 days of the actual expense or within 28 days of your insurance company finalizing its claim.  Once you’ve done so, your ex has 28 days to respond to your request for payment.  If he doesn’t, you can ask the Friend of the Court for enforcement (assuming you utilize the FOC’s services of course).

In order for the FOC to assist you, there are time frames yet again, conveniently listed at the bottom of the form for your reference.  In addition to the 28 day limitations described above, you must also submit your enforcement request to the FOC no later than one year after you paid the expense, and within six months after your ex defaults in paying the amount required.  If you have health care insurance, you have to submit your claims to the insurance company within two months after the expense was incurred. 

Being organized and keeping good records is a must in ensuring reimbursement for your children’s health care costs.  Failing to follow any of the time frames means you may end up paying these costs on your own – let’s face it, the doctor’s office is probably not going to be sympathetic to you missing a deadline.