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During marriage couples will typically obtain health insurance through the employment benefits of one working spouse.  If both spouses have insurance available through their employer the family considers their options and may select the less expensive plan, the best comprehensive coverage, or may pick and choose between the plans by selecting the primary health coverage from one, and the dental or vision benefits available through the other.  When the divorce becomes final and the status of the marriage has ended the eligibility for the former spouse to continue enjoying coverage through the other spouse ends.  So what options do divorcing couples have related to health insurance?

 

Enrolling in own Plan.  If both spouses are working a job with benefits the easiest solution is to have the non-covered spouse access health insurance coverage through their own employment.  Coverage through the spouse stops when the status of the marriage has ended, and while employees typically have to wait for open enrollment dates, there is an exception when coverage is lost due to divorce so the uncovered spouse can seek and obtain immediate coverage.

 

COBRA Coverage.  An employer’s obligation to supplement family coverage for a former spouse ends when the status of the marriage ends.  The former spouse does have the option to opt for COBRA coverage.  This can be expensive as any portion of the coverage that had been paid by the employer as well as the portion of the premium related to the former spouse is paid by the former spouse. This coverage only remains available for between 18 and 36 months, depending on certain criteria.

 

Coverage through the Marketplace.  If the soon to be former spouse does not have other coverage available through their own employment it is a good idea to check in with a health insurance professional or otherwise do research to see what coverage is available on the market.  It is helpful to have cost and option information available when addressing the support issues of the case.  There has been a lot of uncertainty about what will happen with the Affordable Care Act but it is a good place to start.  There are other privately offered plans that have varying levels of coverage and access.  There are also reduced benefits type plans such as Tele-medicine which give access to online advice and reduced rate prescription but do not include in-person doctor visits.  These plans provide some access which may be better than having nothing in place at all.

 

Getting Creative with Divorce Mediation.  If you and your spouse are open to exploring creative options to address the health insurance issue through your divorce there are a couple of other options at your disposal.

 

Considering Legal Separation.  With many health insurance plans, the divorce is a terminating event ending the former spouse’s eligibility for coverage.  One way to avoid termination is to proceed with a Legal Separation instead of a Divorce.  While the couple separates and handles child sharing, support and property division just as they would in a divorce, the status of the marriage remains to allow coverage to continue.  If exploring this option, you will want to check with the plan to confirm that eligibility will continue as more and more health plans also have Legal Separation as a terminating event.  To proceed with a Legal Separation there needs to be agreement to do so and to later obtain a Divorce you will need to file a new action and pay a new filing fee.  Many couples don’t want to remain “married” so it is often the case that couples do not want to pursue Legal Separation.

 

Deferring When the Marital Status Ends.  Another creative option to extend health insurance coverage but not have to later return for a divorce is to defer the date the marital status ends.  California has a six-month waiting period from filing and service to when the Court can end the marital status.  Couples can agree to extend this period in their agreement to allow for more time for the other spouse to secure their own coverage.  The agreement will set forth a future date when the status of the marriage will terminate extending out the date the Court would otherwise designate as the termination date.  This allows the spouse to remain covered until the designated date and when the date comes there is no further paperwork with the Court that needs to be done.

 

Accomplishing a Healthy Divorce includes exploring the best options available to the family to assure that health needs for all family members are met through the transition.  Let us help you understand your options to best craft a solution that directs you down the best path.

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