HEALTH INSURANCE AND DIVORCE
One of the biggest fears you may have when considering whether you should divorce your spouse is the loss of health insurance coverage when you are covered under your spouse's health insurance plan and your ability to obtain your own health insurance coverage after the divorce. This is especially scary if you are older, have a health condition and have been financially dependent on your spouse. We hope that this blog post will help alleviate this fear.
Your spouse is required to keep you on his/her health insurance plan while the divorce proceedings are ongoing, and if your spouse removes you from his/her health insurance plan before the divorce is finalized, your spouse could be punished by the court. In Tennessee, a statutory injunction is put in place as soon as a divorce action is pending, and this statutory injunction prohibits a spouse from removing the other spouse from his/her health insurance plan until the divorce is finalized, or until the parties reach an agreement which is approved by the court. If your spouse removes you from the health insurance plan while the divorce is ongoing without your knowledge or consent and without the court's permission, your spouse could be held in contempt for removing you from his/her health insurance plan.
Once you are divorced, your spouse is no longer obligated to carry you on his/her health insurance plan. However, you can still keep your health insurance coverage, and in some cases, your spouse could be required to provide it for you.
The federal Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985, COBRA for short, is a federal law that requires group health insurance plans to offer continuing coverage to the dependent spouse after divorce for up to three years. This means that you would continue to have health insurance coverage, but you will have to pay for it at a cost higher than what is provided to your ex-spouse through his or her employer. The good thing about COBRA coverage is that you do not have a gap in coverage, and it gives you time to find alternate insurance coverage after the divorce. You are not required to keep COBRA coverage for three years, but you will not be able to have it for more than three years from the date the divorce is final.
However, COBRA coverage is not available to individuals who are 65 years of age or older, because Medicare is available to individuals in that age bracket. You may need more than just Medicare coverage, however, which would be an additional cost to you.
If you are the financially disadvantaged spouse compared to your ex, and the marriage was of long duration, the court could order your ex to pay for your health insurance coverage as alimony, or the court could add the cost of health insurance coverage and medical expenses to the alimony award. This would especially be helpful in being able to obtain supplemental coverage that is not available through standard Medicare coverage.
While the divorce is ongoing, your spouse has to provide you with at least thirty days' advance notice of cancellation of health insurance coverage due to the divorce and a notice of COBRA benefits, if available. This is good, because it ensures that you are given time to figure out how your health insurance needs will be met before the divorce is finalized. If you are covered under your spouse's health insurance plan, the notice your spouse provides you shall inform you that you will not be eligible for continued coverage under their policy. It shall also advise you of whether continued insurance coverage is available under COBRA and provide you with the procedures for applying for COBRA coverage, including who should be contacted to obtain COBRA coverage. The notice shall inform you that you will be without health insurance coverage from your spouse's policy and that you should either obtain COBRA continuation coverage or a separate health insurance policy.
As far as health insurance coverage for the children, the courts will typically order the parent who has been providing health insurance for the children to continue to provide the health insurance. The parent providing health insurance coverage to the children of the marriage gets a credit in his/her column when calculating child support obligations. Sometimes the courts will order both parents to provide health insurance coverage to the children if available through their employment at a reasonable cost.
In summary, you will lose the benefits of health insurance coverage available to you through your spouse after the divorce is final, but you may be able to get coverage provided to you through a claim for separate maintenance, alimony. Additionally, if there are minor children of divorce, the courts will ensure that the parent who has been the one customarily providing for the children's health insurance will continue to provide health insurance coverage for the children.