Keeping Your Health Insurance
One issue that may be overlooked by divorcing spouses concerns health insurance. Generally, during the marriage, one spouse has included the other in their health insurance plan. The spouse with the insurance may assume that the other one can be dropped from the policy before the divorce is final. The other spouse may assume that he or she can remain on the policy even after the divorce is final. Both spouses are wrong. The issue is handled differently depending on the date of the final divorce decree.
Unless there is a court order, one spouse may not drop the other from the health insurance plan during the separation. If it does happen and the spouse is dropped and later incurs medical expense, the one who has the insurance will very likely be required to pay those medical bills. In addition, the court will not be pleased when it discovers this has happened. This may influence later decisions concerning division of assets and spousal support.
The situation changes on the date the divorce becomes final. The spouse without coverage is no longer legally even allowed to be covered by the health plan of the ex-spouse. Depending on the healthcare plan carrier, or benefit plan administrator, insurance will be terminated either on the very date of the divorce or on the next open enrollment date.
It needs to be made clear to the spouse who is losing health care insurance that from the date of the final judgment, there is no coverage. The person will be totally responsible for all medical expenses incurred after the date the final judgment of divorce is entered.
If the employer for whom the spouse with the insurance works has no fewer than 20 employees, the insurer is required by federal law to offer a plan known as COBRA to the spouse who is losing coverage. This provides the same coverage to the ex-spouse, but it is generally quite a bit more expensive and the spouse who obtains COBRA must pay for it. It can be used for a total of 36 months. At the end of that period of time, COBRA coverage expires and the ex-spouse must find other insurance coverage.
When the health of one party is such that ongoing and expensive medical care is anticipated, there are some options available.
- Even though a divorced spouse cannot keep the ex-spouse on the policy, a court may order one party to pay health insurance premiums for the ex-spouse. A court has no jurisdiction over a health care insurer and cannot order an insurer to keep an ex-spouse on the plan. The court can order one party, as part of a spousal support or alimony award, to pay the insurance premiums and medical bills of an ex-spouse.
- The parties may choose a legal separation instead of a divorce. This ends the marriage relationship, divides assets and liabilities and provides for the court to make orders for child and spousal support. The parties are still legally married, so the spouse with the health insurance can maintain coverage under the health plan for the spouse from whom the party is legally separated.
Whether you are the spouse that has the health insurance coverage, or the spouse that will lose coverage when the divorce is final, you need the services of an experienced Las Vegas divorce attorney who can guide you through this legal maze.