Health Insurance and Divorce

When the issue of divorce comes up, it’s natural to think about property division, custody arrangements, and potential alimony payments. What many couples forget to consider are the ramifications a divorce has on shared health insurance policies. Divorce proceedings in California can affect one spouse and the children in the marriage. The more you know about health insurance during and after divorce, the more prepared you will be for your future as a single man or woman.

Health Insurance During a Pending Divorce

In many marriages, one spouse receives health insurance coverage through his or her job that extends to the spouse and children. During a divorce, the spouse who does not receive these benefits through employment may face a future uninsured. Many people cannot prevent a gap in coverage during divorces, and they are often significant gaps that may increase insurance premiums or limit payouts. Those with ongoing health care needs are especially at risk during these gaps in coverage.

If you and your spouse separate, your spouse may not remove you or alter health insurance coverage. The dependent spouse may file an Automatic Temporary Restraining Order that specifically regards health insurance. The spouse with the insurance cannot legally remove the other spouse from the policy at this time. If your spouse attempts to do so, retain an attorney right away and consider filing a Motion for Contempt. You have the legal right to remain on the insurance policy while your divorce is pending.

After a Divorce

About 115,000 women in the U.S. lose their private insurance because of divorce each year, according to a 2012 study (the most recent data available). Some 65,000 of these women become uninsured. Losing health insurance not only results in the lack of ability to seek medical help – it may also decrease health status and take a toll on a person’s well-being. Limited or no access to medical care can create additional stress during divorce. Lack of insurance is a serious problem for divorced spouses.

After the California courts finalize a divorce, an ex-spouse is no longer a “family member” in the eyes of the law. This means the spouse will not qualify to exist on the other spouse’s health insurance benefits. At this point, the ex-spouse will suffer a gap or loss of health insurance coverage. Children in the marriage remain family members regardless of child custody agreements, so children’s health insurance coverage will stay unaffected unless the spouse with the insurance benefits loses all parental rights.

What About Legal Separation?

Keep in mind, however, there are ways to retain your health insurance. Some couples opt for legal separation instead of dissolution of marriage to avoid one spouse losing health insurance coverage.

If this is not an option for you, you may temporarily retain coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) for a limited period of time. This can give you enough time to secure your own plan separate from your spouse’s without suffering a gap. In some divorce cases, the courts will order the insured spouse to make a payment to the uninsured spouse specifically for health insurance coverage. This is more often the case when the uninsured spouse is the custodial parent of minor children. A family law attorney can help sort through complex insurance issues during divorces in California.