When can a parent request reimbursement for childcare expenses and health care costs?
Child Support in California Generally
California’s Family Code governs issues of child support. When a court orders child support, the Family Code states that the court must adhere to the statewide uniform guideline (usually referred to as “formula” or “guideline”), except in special circumstances as described in the Family Code (Fam. Code §4052).
In California both parents are mutually responsible for supporting their children and the Family Code states that a parent’s “first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life” (Fam. Code §4053(a)). One’s duty to support his or her children includes the duty to contribute to additional support for the minor children beyond the basic guideline child support order. The Family Code states that there are two categories of additional child support (add-ons) that could be implicated in a case; specifically mandatory child support add-ons and discretionary child support add-ons (Fam. Code §4062).
Mandatory Child Support Add-Ons
There are two types of mandatory child support add-ons that the court must order if requested by a party; 1) child care costs related to employment or reasonably necessary education and/or training and 2) reasonable uninsured health care costs for the minor child (Fam. Code §4062).
Uninsured Health Care Costs for the Minor Child
Reasonable uninsured health care costs for minor children are subject to orders for payment and/or reimbursement from the other parent (Fam. Code §4062(a)(2)). Also, there is a rebuttable presumption that costs actually paid for uninsured health care needs are reasonable (although exceptions exist)(Fam. Code §4063(d)).
Procedures for Reimbursement of Uninsured Health Care Costs
An order made to pay and/or reimburse the other parent for costs incurred from uninsured health care needs (for example co-pays) must conform with the guidelines of Family Code §4063. This section states that the court has a duty to advise the parties of their rights and liabilities and include in the order the time period for a parent to reimburse the other parent (Fam. Code §4063(a)(1)-(2)). The court usually satisfies this requirement by providing the parties with FL-192 form titled “Notice of Rights and Responsibilities – Health Care Costs and Reimbursement Procedures.”
The parent that has paid the costs has a duty to provide an itemized statement of the costs to the other parent within a reasonable time, but not more than 30 days after accruing the cost (Fam. Code §4063(b)).
However, it is important to note that the 30-day accounting rule is not triggered until an order for payment of add-on health care costs exists (In re Marriage of Lusby, Cal.App.4th 459, 475 (4th Dist. 1998)). The Lusby court clarified the 30-day notice rule by stating that “the duty to give such notice is not triggered until there is an order for payment” (Id.).
Unlike uninsured health care costs, childcare expenses as a mandatory add-on do not appear to have to be reasonable (Fam. Code §4062(a)(1)). Nor is there the requirement that the parent paying the costs provide the other parent with an itemized statement; rather, the parent ordered to pay/reimburse has the burden to seek a prospective modification if that parent believes the amount ordered is not the actual cost (Marriage of Tavares, Cal.App. 4th, 620, 628 (2007)).
The time limit for reimbursement of childcare expenses appears to follow the retroactivity rules for child support that state an order can be made retroactive to the date of filing the motion or date of service in some instances. However, in the Lusby case, the court held that Mother was entitled to reimbursement for childcare expenses incurred for an elapsed period that occurred before she filed her motion to requesting add-ons (In re Marriage of Lusby, Cal.App.4th 459 (4th Dist. 1998)). The Lusby court held that the reimbursement order was not a modification to the existing guideline child support order but rather an “amplification” of it and therefore did not contradict the rules regarding retroactivity of child support modifications (Id. at 473).
Discretionary Child Support Add-Ons
Pursuant to the Family Code, discretionary child support add-ons (meaning that the court does not have to order them) include costs related to the educational or other special needs of the children, and travel expenses for visitation (Fam. Code §4062(b)(1-2)). Because the court has discretion when fashioning an order for this second category of add-ons, the facts and circumstances of each case will be the driving force behind this type of order.