Children’s medical and educational expenses can often be a contentious issue in Texas child-support cases. Parents may disagree on whether treatment is needed, what providers should be used, and whether the child should be in private school. A father recently challenged an order to pay certain medical expenses, arguing the mother had not used preferred providers as required by the decree.
The final divorce decree appointed both parents joint managing conservators with the mother having the right to establish the primary residence with a geographical restriction. The mother was responsible for maintaining the children’s health insurance. The father had an expanded modified possession order and paid child support and reimbursement of insurance premiums as additional child support. Each party was responsible for 50% of additional health-care expenses.
Father Seeks Modification of Divorce Decree
The father petitioned for modification in 2018, seeking the exclusive right to establish the primary residence, as well as child support and certain exclusive decision-making authority.
In response, the mother moved to enforce the decree, claiming the father had not reimbursed her for medical expenses.
The trial court denied most of the modifications the father sought, but awarded the mother $5,923.55 in back child-support arrearage. The father appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s order for arrearage. He alleged the mother did not provide him documentation of the medical expenses in a timely manner and that she had not used a preferred provider.
The divorce decree required the party incurring medical expenses on behalf of the children to submit documentation of the expenses to the other party within 30 days after the documentation is received. The decree also required the party to itemize the expenses. The father argued that his obligation to pay was only triggered if the mother sent him the documentation within the 30-day timeframe. He argued the requirement for documentation was a condition precedent to his obligation to pay. Generally, a contract must include conditional language, such as “if” or “on the condition that,” to create a condition precedent. If there is no conditional language and there is another reasonable way to interpret the contract, the provision will be read as a covenant instead of a condition precedent. The appeals court found there was no conditional language in the relevant provision and that it was reasonable to interpret it as a covenant.
Appellate Court Disagrees with Father
The appeals court also found the father’s argument was contrary to family-law policy that each parent is obligated to support their children and is liable to anyone else, including a parent, who provides the child with necessaries. The appeals court cited Tex. Fam. Code § 154.001, which describes the parents’ duty to support their children and liability to others who provide necessaries to the children. The appeals court also noted that other cases have upheld awards for unreimbursed medical bills that were provided to the parent untimely, even when there was a provision requiring the parent to provide the documentation within a specified timeframe.
The father also argued the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to pay for medical expenses for treatment provided by non-preferred providers. The decree ordered each party “to conform to all requirements imposed by the terms and conditions of the policy of health insurance covering the children in order to assure maximum reimbursement or direct payment by the insurance company. . .” The decree also stated, “Each party is ORDERED to use ‘preferred providers,’ or services within the health maintenance organization, if applicable.”
The appeals court found the trial court had abused its discretion in ordering the reimbursement of a neuropsychological exam, but not in ordering the reimbursement for charges for the child’s therapy. The mother agreed the therapist was not a preferred provider, but testified she had tried to find preferred providers, but could not find one who would treat children of “high conflict divorces” and who also accepted insurance. The decree required the use of preferred providers “if applicable.” The appeals court found the mother’s testimony was sufficient to support an implied finding that the requirement was not applicable under the circumstances.
Appellate Court Partially Disagrees with Mother
The appeals court found there was not sufficient evidence supporting such an implied finding as to the neuropsychological exam, however. The mother testified she had relied on recommendations in selecting the neuropsychologist and had not contacted the insurance company for a list of preferred providers. She testified she did not know if it was difficult to find neuropsychologists for children in her child’s circumstances and that the high-conflict divorce was not a “consideration” in her selection of a provider.
The appeals court rejected the father’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to pay half the child’s private-school tuition. He argued that language in the decree requiring the mother to “keep the children in their current school district” unless certain conditions were met meant the children had to stay in public school. The appeals court found, however, that another provision specifically considered the child going to private school. That provision provided that each party would pay 50% of “fees associated with [the child’s] private tutoring, school, and camps associated with her disabilities, including but not limited to, dyslexia. . .” The appeals court found that the decree allowed the mother to enroll the child in a private school specializing in helping children with dyslexia, and required the father to pay half of the fees if she did so.
The appeals court therefore reversed the trial court’s determination of child support arrearage and rendered judgment that the arrearage was $4,498.55 after removing the expenses associated with the neuropsychological exam. The appeals court affirmed the rest of the decree.
Involved in a Medical or Child-Support Dispute? Call McClure Law Group Today
If you are anticipating or involved in a dispute with your child’s other parent regarding medical or educational expenses, a knowledgeable Texas child support attorney can help you. Schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group by calling our office at 214.692.8200.