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Paying Dental Expenses Demanded by Angry Ex-Spouse?

Question: Help! I am writing you because my husband’s relationship with his former wife is causing problems in our marriage.

My husband and I have been married for two of the three years since he was divorced, and it has been a daily hell. His ex-wife has used every possible opportunity to try to get money from him above the support he was ordered to pay for his nine year-old son. Even though his divorce decree requires him to pay monthly child support, to provide the child’s health insurance, and to pay half of the medical expenses not covered by insurance, we receive either mail or telephone calls almost every day demanding more money for daycare, allowances, outside activities, etc. (I have saved all of the letters and the taped messages she leaves on our answering machine). My husband is a really nice guy and has tried to appease her so that we won’t have to go back to court. His support payments are made on time, and he sends extra money when he can.

Most recently, his ex-wife decided to have braces put on the child despite my husband’s objections that the boy’s teeth were not that bad and our financial situation made this expense unaffordable. She billed him for one-half of the charges – more than $1,500.

Even though the decree states nothing about my husband being responsible for dental expenses, he decided more than a year ago to provide his son with dental insurance at his place of employment. After receiving the $1,500 bill, he contacted the orthodontist’s office and arranged for the insurance forms to be completed. At that time, he learned that the braces were applied at the insistence of his ex even though the child had only minimal orthodontic problems.

When he told his ex-wife that half the bill will be paid with this insurance, she told him that he now has to pay half of the half that is left, and, if he does not, she will be taking him to back court for contempt to collect the money. I think her venomous behavior toward me and my husband has affected my stepson who seems to be more and more withdrawn and whose school performance has declined. Do you think he’s obligated to pay any more? What should we do?

Answer: Assuming the facts are as you state, it appears that your husband has gone above and beyond the call of duty in dealing with a very angry ex-spouse. First of all, in order to be guilty of contempt, your husband must be found to have willfully refused to comply with a clear and unambiguous provision of a court order. Since “medical expenses” do not include “dental expenses”, we do not believe there is a clear obligation that your husband pay dental expenses. In order to seek modification of the court order, your husband’s ex must show a substantial change of economic conditions which appears to be unlikely.

But even more important than the financial issues and the harassment is the emotional well-being of your stepson. The inability of your husband’s ex-wife to deal with her anger and emotions is clearly affecting your stepson. It appears to us that if this situation is left unchecked, there could be severe emotional damage inflicted on the boy. Even though the courtroom is the last place people want to go, it appears that your situation will continue to escalate unless you and your husband take a proactive position. We suggest that you make an appointment with a child psychologist or psychiatrist, give him or her the history, show him or her the letters, and get an opinion about whether you should seek a change of custody which, under the circumstances, we believe may be long overdue.

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