California Court Orders Couple to Split Child’s Rehabilitation Costs as Child Support – In re Marriage of Harrison

Child support payments are intended to help cover kids’ basic costs, including money for food, clothing, and shelter. Sometimes, other costs come up. As California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained, any healthcare-related costs that arise along the way are usually considered additional child support costs to be split evenly between divorced parents.

Husband and Wife separated in 2007. A court awarded Husband primary custody of the couple’s daughter in 2012 and ordered Wife to pay him $540 in monthly child support. The court also ordered Husband to pay Wife $1,800 in monthly spousal support. In reaching the decision, the court found that Wife was making about $2,000 per month, while Husband was bringing in roughly five times that amount.

Father went back to the court about five months later, informing it that a juvenile court had ordered the couple’s daughter to spend four months in an inpatient substance abuse program in juvenile hall or be placed in an inpatient rehabilitation facility. Father asked that Wife be ordered to pay half of the $8,000 per month it was going to cost to send Daughter to the out-of-state facility. He said Wife had insisted on sending Daughter to an inpatient facility and had agreed to foot half of the bill. Husband added that his savings were rapidly depleting and that he could no longer afford to pay spousal support, since he was paying for Daughter’s care.

Opposing Father’s request, Mother said she’d secured a scholarship for Daughter at a local, less expensive treatment facility. She added that the only money in her savings account was from an equalization payment that Husband was forced to make on community property. Wife said she was having a hard time finding full-time work as a nanny because she was subject to a domestic violence restraining order. At trial, according to the Fourth District, “Mother initially admitted she had agreed to pay one-half to the cost of the facility, then denied it, and then waffled as to whether she had agreed to do so.”

The trial court ultimately found that the rehabilitation treatment was a medical expense and ordered the spouses to split the costs evenly. It found that both spouses had the ability to pay, concluding that Wife was bringing in about $5,400 per month in earnings, spousal support payments, and income from Husband’s retirement savings. Evidence also showed that she had $60,000 in savings. It also noted that Wife had willingly racked up a substantial credit card debt, including by spending nearly $40,000 in attorney fees that year. “When you pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to your attorneys and you pay credit cards of anywhere from $1,500 a month to 20 grand a month, you can and will participate in paying for the treatment of [Daughter] in this facility she is in,” the trial judge observed.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District explained that California law requires divorced parents to pay for “reasonable uninsured health care costs” as part of additional child support. Generally, those costs are to be split evenly, unless one spouse can show that doing so would be unjust or improper. Here, the Court said the trial judge determined that both spouses had the ability to pay, although it would be difficult for each of them. “The court made expressly clear that the parents’ priority, after housing, food, and utilities, was daughter’s medical care,” the Fourth District noted. “In addition, the court highlighted all the money mother had paid on her credit card and for attorney fees.”

With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches divorce cases as a problem to be solved collaboratively, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.

Related blog posts:

Child Support Obligations for “De Facto Parents” – In re Marriage of Abbate

California Court Says Child Entitled to Lawyer in Her Parents’ Custody Spat – In re Marriage of Metzger

Alameda County Divorce Court – Why Divorcing Couples Should Stay Out of Court

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