If you’re going through a separation or divorce, it may not be clear what to expect regarding health insurance coverage for you, your spouse and/or your children. You may wonder what your obligations are during the support or divorce proceedings and what may happen afterwards. As part of a support order, it’s possible that one of the parties involved will be ordered to maintain health insurance for his or her spouse and/or children. The payment of health insurance for a spouse and/or children is factored into the total support award (child or spousal support) with adjustments to the total award occurring based upon the payment of health insurance.
During these times, the maintenance of health insurance is a common topic. It’s important to consider health insurance costs as part of the equitable division of the marital estate and/or an award of alimony. While every situation is different, below are a few things to consider when thinking about health insurance obligations during your separation and/or divorce:
- Separation vs. Divorce – Some employers and health insurance companies treat separation the same as divorce. Depending on the employer and the health insurance company, health insurance coverage can stop on the date of separation OR the date of divorce. If you are involved in a separation and you had health insurance under your spouse’s plan, you may have the right to continue the coverage through COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, for up to 36 months. The COBRA law applies to health plans sponsored by state and local governments and private companies with 20 or more employees.
- Qualifying Life Event – Separation and divorce are qualifying life events that may make you eligible for a special enrollment period which will allow you to enroll in health insurance outside of the yearly open enrollment period. If you find yourself losing coverage due to separation or divorce, here are a couple of options you could pursue, including: signing up for COBRA through your former spouse’s employer, signing up for insurance through your own employer, buying a policy directly from a health insurance company, or buying a policy from your state’s health insurance marketplace.
- Unpaid Medical Costs – If you are still on the same health insurance plan as your separated spouse, you may be wondering what could happen and who could be responsible if the other doesn’t pay their medical bills. Usually, the unpaid medical bills have no impact on coverage. However, such expenses may be addressed in the court order.
- Switching Coverage to New Spouse – If you want your new spouse to cover you and/or your children with their health insurance, and you already have a court order for your former spouse to cover you and/or your children due to separation or divorce, you can file a motion to modify the order. Don’t forget that having a backup plan is important, and if your new spouse would lose his or her job, it might be smart to have something written in the modified court order for those circumstances.
- Health Insurance for Children – Whether going through a separation or divorce, the court has the authority to rule as to who is responsible for the health insurance for the involved children, and for how long they are covered. Children are usually dependents on their parent’s health insurance until the age of 18 or 21 depending on state law; however court orders requiring the maintenance of insurance coverage for children will last until the child reaches age 18 or graduates high school, whichever date is later.
- Unused Health Insurance – If the court order in your divorce or support proceeding states that you are responsible for paying your former spouse’s health insurance or your children’s health insurance, and you find your former spouse or children aren’t using the insurance, you can seek to have the court order modified to reflect the current situation.
The issue of health insurance coverage continues to be an important matter in many divorce cases, and it’s important to know what may happen and what your options are. Meet with our lawyers and we can discuss your situation thoroughly and assess your options. To learn more, contact us online or call our law firm at 412-261-4040.
The attorneys of Wilder Mahood McKinley & Oglesby, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have assisted clients across western Pennsylvania in resolving issues as they relate to family law matters since 1978. Our founding partner, Joanne Ross Wilder, wrote the handbook used across the state by practitioners and judges in the family law arena. Our attorneys, Brian E. McKinley, Darren K. Oglesby and Bruce L. Wilder, update the book annually to keep current with changes in the law.