By David J. Marquardt of Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. posted in Family Law on Thursday, September 28, 2017.
Going through a divorce naturally results in a multitude of life changes, both individually as a person and collectively as a family. A good example of such changes is the handling of health insurance for spouses and children. In most cases, the entire family receives health insurance through one of the spouse’s employer-sponsored health plans or through an insurance exchange, with the constant variable being that there is one plan. Naturally, for both legal and practical reasons, that must change during a divorce.
Generally, health insurance issues for spouses can be divided into pre-divorce issues and post-divorce issues. Before anyone files for divorce, it is rare to see a health insurance issue, as the family maintains the status quo and most plans won’t allow substantial changes until it is that plan’s open season anyway.
Once one of the spouse’s files for divorce, then matters get a little trickier. The spouse paying for health insurance often wants to cut out the other spouse in an effort to save money. While this may make sense from a budgeting standpoint, for two reasons it often is unwise in practice. First, it makes the carrying spouse look bad, which could become especially important if the case goes to trial. A Judge will wonder why that spouse couldn’t spend the minimal extra money to help the other while the uncertainty of divorce is looming. Simply stated, it often appears spiteful.
Second, Virginia Code Section 20-103 allows a Court to order a spouse to continue providing health insurance for the other while a divorce suit is pending. If one spouse attempts to drop the other from a health insurance plan, it is common for Judges to invoke this Code section to force coverage. This makes sense, given all the issues that need to be figured out during the divorce process.
After a divorce is granted, the carrying spouse may no longer include the other on the pre-divorce health insurance plan. That doesn’t mean, however, there aren’t options. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) allows a spouse to elect continued coverage for up to 36 months post-divorce, provided that spouse pays for the continued coverage. Similarly, if health insurance is provided through the military and the non-member spouse does not qualify for lifetime health benefits, the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBF) provides for post-divorce coverage. While these are temporary solutions, it allows the uncovered spouse time to determine how to handle health insurance needs.
The other aspect of health insurance in divorce involves dependent children. Both pre-divorce and post-divorce, Virginia courts have the authority to order one spouse to provide health insurance for minor children. In fact, the child support statute requires that health insurance be addressed. Consequently, providing health insurance for children is often a less complicated issue than for spouses. That being said, there are other matters that must be considered, such as the cost of health insurance and its effect on the amount of child support, and the cost of unreimbursed medical expenses.
Health insurance issues in divorce are certainly complicated. The attorneys at Duff Kronfeld & Marquardt P.C. have ample experience dealing with all aspects of divorce in Virginia. If you or a loved one require assistance with health insurance or other divorce issues, don’t hesitate to contact the firm at 703-591-7475 for a consultation.