Can I be reimbursed for child birthing expenses?
Can I be reimbursed for child birthing expenses?
The father of a child, who is not married to the child’s mother, is required to contribute towards the reasonable expenses related to the pregnancy and their child’s birth.
A mother is entitled to financial maintenance from the father of her child in the period just before and just after the child’s birth, known as the “childbirth maintenance period”.
For most parents, the childbirth maintenance period begins 2 months before the child is born and ends when the child is 3 months old. For working mothers who are advised by their doctor to stop working for medical reasons related to the pregnancy, their childbirth maintenance period starts on the day they stop working.
Childbirth maintenance is a financial payment made by the father to the mother to help her cover her living expenses during this period and meet the specific expenses which arise when a baby is born.
The list of expenses which can be claimed include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses for medical, surgical, dental, diagnostic services, hospital stays, pharmaceuticals and physiotherapy.
- Reasonable living expenses, including for rent, bills and food.
- Maternity clothing for the last 2 months of the pregnancy.
Unlike child support, to obtain childbirth maintenance the mother will need to make an application to the court during pregnancy or within the first year of the child’s life. Applications can be made after a child turns one, but only if the court grants permission. Urgent orders can be made if the court is convinced that the mother is in immediate need of financial support.
As part of her application, the mother should provide a detailed list of her expenses, including receipts to prove these expenses. The expenses should be “reasonable” and relate solely to the childbirth period.
When deciding how much the father will be required to pay to the mother (or the relevant service providers) the court will consider:
- Both the mother and father’s income, earning capacity, property and financial resources.
- Any privately paid maternity leave the mother is entitled to receive.
- The mother and father’s need to support themselves and other dependent persons.
- Any special circumstances, which if ignored, would bring undue hardship on another person or result in injustice.
The court will not consider any means tested government benefits the mother receives, such as the newborn supplement, newborn upfront payment, paid parental leave or Family Tax Benefit.
Obviously, both the mother and father will save on legal fees and court costs if they can reach agreement on the amount of maintenance to be paid.
There are not many published court decisions regarding childbirth maintenance as most parents do reach agreement about sharing the costs around a child’s birth, especially in the context of negotiating the time the child will spend with the father once born. However, the case of Millar & Johnston  FCCA 543 provides an example as to how the court works through the above considerations.
In that case, the father and mother lived together for a few months, but the parties conceived their child after they stopped living together. The father did not want to pay childbirth maintenance, saying that he voluntarily gave the mother money while she was pregnant but before the childbirth maintenance period. Also, at the time of the hearing, the father was receiving government benefits so could not afford to pay any more (although he did say he expected to get a job soon).
The mother wanted the father to pay half of her total expenses, which she said were $12,270. The court assessed that the mother’s reasonable expenses were $7,871.80. The court noted that the mother earned approximately $36,000 a year and had no assets of substance.
The father paid minimal child support as he was receiving government benefits (the child was 2 years old at the time of the hearing), but that was expected to change once the father got a job. The father provided the court with evidence that before the childbirth period and while the mother was pregnant, he had paid her approximately $3,310.
The court felt that it was unjust to disregard the voluntary amounts the father had paid the mother just because they fell outside the childbirth period. So, the court ordered that the father pay the mother $625.90, being half of her reasonable expenses ($3,935.90) minus the voluntary payments to her ($3,310).
As both the mother and the father were legally represented, it is likely that their legal fees were greater than the amounts they were both arguing about. While the court’s decision appears fair, one does wonder at whether a more pragmatic and sensible course of action would have been for both the mother and father to focus on reducing the conflict between them rather than exacerbate it by going to court.
If you find yourself in a situation where childbirth maintenance is a relevant consideration, and you want to understand how to cost effectively reach agreement with the other party, please contact Sage Family Lawyers on 03 9070 9839 or email@example.com