The answer to the question of responsibility between divorced parents for a minor child’s dental expenses is similar to the treatment decisions question above – it depends.

Generally, payment should be sought from the parent with the court-assigned responsibility for the expenses. As with treatment decisions, the only way to be absolutely certain which parent is responsible is to request the parent bringing the child to the office provide copies of all documents relating to custody and medical expenses (e.g., the divorce decree, separate custody decree, document referencing child care expenses or insurance coverage).

Those documents should tell you who is legally responsible for the expenses, but they will not necessarily answer the question of whether you can contact the other parent for payment.

Even if not legally responsible, the other parent may be willing to pay.

However, you cannot request payment from the non-legally obligated parent unless that parent has the right to access the child’s dental records. If the non-obligated parent has records access (i.e., joint legal custody or has been given permission, preferably written, by the other parent to have records access), you can request payment.

The non-legally obligated parent cannot be required to pay even if they have records access – but there is seldom any harm in asking.

An alternative for dealing with a non-legally obligated parent with access to records might be to request that he or she sign a statement in advance of treatments agreeing to be financially responsible.

The parent may or may not be willing to sign depending on the situation, but signing makes them responsible and, again, there is seldom any harm in asking. A general rule of thumb to start with is the parent who signed the child’s health history, HIPAA forms, consent and treatment plan, is generally (minus the knowledge of court orders) the parent responsible to pay the bill.