Before I got on a high horse and start talking about how hard of a job it must be to be a supreme court justice, and how principled and carefully reasoned the decisions are, I must admit that I remembered wanting to level the same kind of criticisms myself, quite recently in fact.
In Davis v. Davis, 263 P.3d 520 (UT App, 2011), the Utah Court of Appeals decided that a party’s obligation to reimburse the other party for medical expenses incurred on behalf of the parties’ children is not contingent on receiving proof of payment; however, the parties still have a statutory obligation to provide proof of payment to each other.
Now, imagine a scenario where an ex-husband and ex-wife have a child and then divorce, and in this scenario, the ex-wife calls her ex-husband and says “Hello, I just spent $1500.00 on a medical bill for our child; you owe me $750.00, goodbye.” In this scenario, the ex-husband is obligated to reimburse the ex-wife $750.00, and the ex-wife is obligated to provide proof of the $1,500.00 expense to the ex-husband.
Prior to the Davis decision, the phone call would have been a nice heads-up to the ex-husband, but until the ex-wife provided proof of the $1500.00 expense, the ex-husband could refuse to reimburse her. Why? Because the ex-husband could argue that without proof that the ex-wife actually incurred the expense, ex-husband could rightly fear that ex-wife was making a fraudulent claim for reimbursement. Requiring the showing of proof of payment as a pre-condition to requesting reimbursement had the benefit of ensuring that the ex-husband would never have to give $750.00 to the ex-wife if the ex-wife hadn’t actually spent $1500.00 on the child and gotten a receipt.
If the ex-wife in our scenario failed to provide proof of incurring the expense, she could be on the hook for the entire $1,500.00, and if the ex-husband had failed to pay his half of the expense after the ex-wife provided him with proof, the ex-wife could go to court with a slam-dunk case.
After Davis v. Davis, that simplicity is gone. After the Davis decision, If an ex-husband or an ex-wife makes a phone call or sends an e-mail claiming a medical expense on the behalf of the parties’ child, the party making the phone call has a statutory duty to provide proof only of the expense—not of payment of the expense—and the other party has a duty to reimburse one-half of the amount. It’s possible now for parties to go to court simultaneously claiming that the other has failed his/her half of the medical reimbursement obligation.
I like the idea of parties working things out among themselves, where one party has to show that something has been spent before the other has to replace it. I like the idea of clear cut cases that, if they have to go to court, can be decided cleanly, quickly, and at no cost to an innocent party if the case is so clear cut the court can award costs to the winner. I liked the old system.
Yet with my thinking cap on, I can see how this new system might actually be preferable. It makes it likely that one parent will never be stuck with the whole bill for a child’s medical expense; Davis also makes it so that a party won’t have to shoulder the burden of a medical expense by himself or herself while waiting for a day in court. While I may not be personally convinced that the benefits of the new system outweigh the streamlined benefits of the old one, I am especially sensitive today to the difficult job that appellate judges do, and I’m contemplating whether I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in the Davis v. Davis decision.