Do I Have to Pay My Child’s Medical Debt If I Didn't Sign For It?

A reader wants to know if he is responsible for his child's medical bills even though he never signed anything taking legal responsibility for those bills?

My teenage son lives with his mother in Georgia. I live in Alabama. I pay his mother $500/month in child support but we were never married and there was no divorce decree, court order or any other legal document governing the support or financial responsibility.

My son recently received medical treatment and the hospital has started to send me bills for thousands of dollars. My son is listed as a dependent on my insurance and have been for 14 years but I have never received a bill associated with any of his doctors’ visits or medical treatment provided in Georgia as I have not been the one to sign the statement of financial responsibility for treatment received in Georgia.

Two questions - number one, am I legally responsible for medical debts that are not authorized by my signature on the statement of financial responsibility?

Second question, can the hospital or any other the medical provider report these debts to credit reporting agencies without the signed statement of financial responsibility from me even though the debt is associated with a dependent listed on my insurance plan?

I understand the moral responsibility but my question is specifically about the legal responsibility and whether or not it can affect my credit score as the bills are in the thousand of dollars. Thank you for the consideration. Thank you Gerri.

Reply from Gerri Detweiler

Yes, you are likely responsible for your minor child's medical bills under state law. In many states, parents are responsible for their children's necessary expenses - including medical expenses - under laws often referred to as "Doctrines of Necessaries."

However, that said, in some states creditors must first try to collect from the spouse who incurred the debt before trying to collect from the other spouse.

Because this is a large debt I would encourage you to talk with a consumer law attorney who can help you clarify your rights and obligations here. If you are responsible for these debts, then make sure you insist upon detailed bills for all charges and try to negotiate if they are unaffordable. You'll find some podcast with medical bill advice here.

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Oct 28, 2020
What to pay and not to pay NEW
by: Anonymous

My ex sends me a receipt from drug store for supposedly our sons contact lenses. I have him on my insurance and she said that she bought these contact lenses and that I need to pay my portion for contact lenses. Do I have to pay my portion even though this is not a doctors bill?

Aug 12, 2020
Doctrine of Necessaries
by: A Dad

What I'm reading about "Doctrine of Necessaries" is that it applies when a minor child lists the parent as guarantor; if I understand the question above right, and in my case, the debate here isn't that "a parent" be responsible for their child's medical care, but rather "which parent"?

In my case, my ex-wife (of more than 10 years), lists me as the responsible party and then signs her name on medical bills.

Like the OP, I understand the moral obligation, but legally, my ex-wife is just as financially responsible for that medical bill as I am. By listing me, however, she doesn't pay the bill and I end up being the one to go to collections.

IMHO (which I think has legal support, but I don't know for sure), the provider's recourse is with whomever authorized the medical services (assuming they are under 18), and IF I am responsible for the out-of-pocket expenses over and above what my ex-wife has paid for the year, then HER recourse is with me for reimbursement. If I refuse to pay her, and she has legal records to indicate that I am responsible to her, then she can file Contempt of Court, along with any other number of legal docs against me. BUT, if the medical provider doesn't get money from me, with her signature on file, and they send me the bill for collection, the responsibly should not be mine to pay - I could (should) certainly forward the bill onto my ex-wife for payment, but if she refuses and that bill is in my name, then I am the one going to collections - and in my opinions - illegally.

Please expand. Thank you.

Mar 02, 2020
Question about financial responsibility
by: Anonymous

My ex-husband had custody of my son (I have a divorce decree) when I had to take him to the ER, per his doctor, to have his stitches removed. I was made to sign for treatment which, I was told, designated me as grantor. His insurance was with Medicaid at the time, but now the hospital is trying to stick me with about $1100, which has now gone on my credit. Is there anything I can do to get it removed?

Mar 19, 2017
Responsible party
by: Granville Davis

My grandson's medical bill of $2,007 was filed against me for collection because the hospital had designated me as guarantor.

My grandson has health insurance coverage with both his mother and father.

And he is not on my insurance policy. Now morally I don't mind paying the bill and I will. But I resent them (I believe) trying to force me to to do something that very well may not be legal.

Reply from Gerri Detweiler

I am sorry I missed this earlier. I've heard this kind of complaint before. It sounds like it's too late to dispute the collection account, but I would encourage you to at least file a complaint with your state attorney's general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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