Today, many children and teens get braces or other orthodontic treatment to straighten or adjust overcrowded teeth, correct an overbite or underbite, enhance tooth or jaw placement, or improve smiles. According to KidsHealth, the average length of time a child wears braces is approximately two years at a price tag of about $5,000.
Braces, headgear, retainers and similar orthodontic equipment and treatment are an expensive investment in a child’s health for which insurance coverage tends to be skimpy. For an unprepared parent, the unexpected expense can be difficult to budget, especially if the orthodontist requires a large down payment.
Orthodontia and divorce
In a Florida divorce involving young children, parents may not anticipate the eventual issue of paying for braces. Ideally, every divorce involving minor children of any age should specifically address the issue. If the parties negotiate a marital settlement agreement, they should consider using specific language laying out future financial responsibility for braces.
It also may be helpful to designate who has the power to make orthodontic treatment decisions and whether the paying parent must agree. This issue relates to which parent has legal custody or the power to decide health care matters for the child or whether the parents jointly share this responsibility.
If parents do not settle, it may be smart to propose similar resolutions to the judge who will decide on the issues.
Florida courts treat orthodontic expenses different from medical or dental
Divorcing parents and their attorneys may want to consider these potential approaches because the Florida Supreme Court has not spoken directly in a court opinion to the question of parental financial responsibility for orthodontia. The high court has, however, approved a family law form that lists “orthodontic payments” as an “other provision” within child support different from “uninsured medical/dental expenses.”
This as well as what lower Florida courts have said suggest that a court might interpret a provision in a settlement or divorce decree that says who will pay for uncovered medical or dental expenses as not applying to orthodontic bills.
Lower Florida court opinions have said, suggested or raised these questions:
- Orthodontia may be an “extraordinary dental expense” as opposed to a normal or ordinary dental or medical service.
- If orthodontic treatment is elective, it may not fall under a provision in a decree or settlement about who decides or pays for “ordinary and necessary” medical or dental expenses.
- If the orthodontic treatment is elective, perhaps the financially responsible parent should approve the treatment or at least be consulted.
- Unless an agreement or decree defines dental or medical treatment as including orthodontics, a trial court might not find a parent responsible for dental or medical expenses responsible also for orthodontics.
If you are a parent facing divorce involving minor children, be sure to discuss the issue of financial responsibility for braces with an experienced family lawyer early on to decide on a legal approach likely to prevent financial responsibility problems later.