Child Insurance Rules for Divorced Parents

By Marilyn Lindblad

Parents comforting girl holding teddy bear in hospital bed

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

State and federal laws regulate a divorced parent's responsibility for providing medical support to a child, including medical care and health insurance. A divorce decree can add even more rules that a parent must obey. Ignoring these rules can expose a parent to liability for contempt of court and can expose a child to a potential loss of insurance coverage. A court order for child support must include a provision for medical support.

Federal Law

Parents who live in one state can owe child support to children in one or more other states. Therefore, the federal government has established uniform requirements to provide benefits for children across the United States and to prevent a deadbeat parent from dodging child support obligations by moving from state to state. Federal law requires each state to establish child support awards that provide health care for children through health insurance "or other means."

State Law

State law builds on the federal requirements, and each state's laws may be different. In California, for example, medical support includes dental and vision insurance, and a court may order one or both parents to provide health insurance as long as the cost is less than 5 percent of the gross income of the parent who provides the insurance. In Texas, the court considers the cost of insurance to be reasonable as long as the cost does not exceed 9 percent of the parent's gross income. The parent can deduct the cost of insurance from his or her income for purposes of calculating the base amount of child support.

Uninsured Medical Expenses

Federal law establishes the requirement for parents to use health insurance or some other means to provide medical support, but the feds leave it to each state to establish liability for a child's uninsured medical expenses. For example, Vermont law requires the parent who receives support to pay the first $200 per year of uninsured medical expenses, and the parents divide any remaining expenses between them. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia require the support-receiving parent to pay the first $250 of annual uninsured medical expenses for each child.

Other Provisions

State law may contain additional rules about medical support. If neither parent has medical insurance available at a reasonable cost, state law may require a parent to cover the child as soon as reasonably priced insurance becomes available. State law may also require the parents to exchange information about the child's health insurance with each other and to notify one another if the insurance information changes. States can also make rules regulating health insurance providers to prohibit discrimination against children whose parents are divorced and reduce the likelihood that a provider will deny coverage to a child of divorced parents.