Child Support & Extraordinary Medical Expenses

What are extraordinary medical expenses in the eyes of the court?

'Male doctor examining boy (6-7) with stethoscope, close-up'
Darrin Klimek / Getty Images

The phrase "extraordinary medical expenses" comes up quite a bit in child support orders. In fact, it's one of those 'little-known facts' about child support that often come as a surprise to parents. For example, courts often order parents paying child support to cover "extraordinary medical expenses," especially in cases where a pre-existing or chronic medical condition exists and has the potential to incur significant medical expenses. But what exactly are extraordinary medical expenses? Let's explore this common question:

Extraordinary Medical Expenses

First, it is up to each state to determine whether a parent can be ordered to contribute to extraordinary medical expenses. Further, if the state where your case is being determined does allow for the coverage of extraordinary medical expenses, then whether they will be required in your cases will be determined by the judge. When a parent is ordered to contribute to extraordinary expenses, those costs are outlined in the child support documents. Some examples of extraordinary medical expenses include:

  • Costs related to the treatment of chronic health problems
  • Asthma treatments
  • Physical therapy
  • Orthodontia
  • Psychological expenses
  • Allergy shots
  • Required orthopedic treatments
  • In-hospital treatment 
  • Any uncovered medical expenses

Ordinary Expenses

Some expenses will most likely be deemed 'ordinary' by the court and not extraordinary. Some examples of ordinary medical expenses include:

  • Routine annual physicals
  • Dental appointments
  • Periodic doctor’s visits

Dollar Value of Extraordinary Expenses

Some states associate a specific dollar amount with costs that may be considered extraordinary medical expenses. For example, some states may:

  • Consider all expenses above $100 as extraordinary expenses
  • Consider any medical expenses that exceed 5% of the monthly child support amount as extraordinary 
  • Consider any medical expenses that are over $250 per year to be extraordinary

In general, if medical expenses total more than the specific dollar figure as outlined in your state’s child support statute—or in your child support order—then you will likely be required to share the burden of paying those costs.

Parents Who Cannot Afford Child Support Payments

In the event that your child support order includes extraordinary medical expense that you cannot afford to cover, you should let the court know about your situation right away. Rather than allow costs to go unpaid, ask for a child support modification and pay as much as you can each month. This approach can help you avoid the consequences of unpaid child support, which can include significant interest rates, losing your license, and even jail time. In general, as long as the court sees that you are attempting to make payments, they are willing to work with you. However, you should never ignore the situation and hope it goes away on its own. That is the worst thing to do when you can't afford to pay what the court says you owe.

For more information about extraordinary medical expenses, you should refer to your state’s child support guidelines or speak with a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction.