Health Insurance and Divorce - What Are Your Options?

What can you do if you need to continuing health insurance and divorce threatens to take that away? What about if you want to drop your spouse from your coverage? If you are facing such a situation, the following advice from our legal expert can help you understand your options.

Insurance During Separation

Divorce and Health Insurance

Children's Health Insurance and Divorce

Post-divorce Insurance Issues

Health Insurance during a Separation

Insurance and legal separation

Julie's Question: Can you keep your health insurance if you get a legal separation?

Brette's Answer: You have the right to continue the health care coverage you had under your spouse's plan through COBRA. Concerning how a legal separation will affect your current coverage, some employers and insurance companies will stop coverage on the date of separation, as opposed to the date of divorce. An attorney can advise you how to handle the situation and what your options are.

Can his insurance company drop me if we are separated?

Cheryl's Question: If you separate, you are still considered married. But my husband says that if we separate it is looked at as a divorce by his employer? How is that legal?

Brette's Answer: In some cases health insurance and benefit plans treat a separation the same as divorce.

Do I have to keep insurance on him if we're legally separated?

Jean's Question: Do I have to keep health insurance on my spouse? We have been legally separated for over 4 years and he has been dragging out the divorce to keep health insurance.

Brette's Answer: You are not obligated to continue insurance for your spouse unless you've been ordered by a court to do so. If you stop it, he could go to court and ask that it be continued and the judge would have to decide at that point if you are responsible for it.

What if he took us off the policy despite the temporary orders?

Laura's Question: We are divorcing and it was agreed at temporary orders that he would keep me and the children on health insurance. I just received notice that he took us off insurance anyway. Now what do we do and why is he being so mean?

Brette's Answer: File a petition for a violation of the order with the court. He'll be required to put you back on and be responsible for any costs you incurred because of the removal. I can't answer why he's being so mean, other than to say that people going through a divorce often act in ways you would never expect nor anticipate.

What if my policy won't cover my ex as required in our agreement?

Heidi's Question: My legal separation was final a month ago. As part of the agreement, I am to keep my ex on my health insurance plan through my work. NOW, the HR manager at work informed me I cannot keep my ex on my insurance and have two choices, COBRA or independent. My attorney said he will look into it and now wants to charge me $500.00 just for the phone calls/research he should have done to begin with! Should I have to pay for a job twice that should have been done right the first time? What are my options to get this straightened out?

Brette's Answer: You would have had to pay for the time to address the issue no matter when it was handled. However, I am surprised your attorney did not know how to address this common issue. It might be simpler for you to pay your ex alimony (which is tax deductible for you) and let your ex find a policy on his own. Discuss this with your attorney.

Do I have to pay his doctor bills not covered by insurance?

Amanda's Question: If my husband is covered on my employers plan and he doesn't pay his doctor's/hospital bills, do I have to pay those? How does that effect my coverage? I have filed for divorce but it's not close to being finalized.

Brette's Answer: Copays and deductibles are paid to the individual doctors not the insurance company. It has no impact on coverage. The adult incurring them is responsible.

Divorce and Health Insurance

Will I lose insurance coverage when we divorce?

Nicole's Question: My husband has started the process of filing for a divorce. We have two children and I am pregnant with the third. My oldest is not his, but he carries insurance on her. He is telling me that once he finalizes the divorce my oldest and I will lose his insurance. Is this correct?

Brette's Answer: You can continue the insurance through a federal law called COBRA. The court might even order him to pay the premium.

What are my rights to continue health insurance?

Jennifer's Question: I am a 2 year breast cancer survivor, and feel trapped in a bad marriage. I want to leave, but fear that it will cost me my life if I do not have health insurance. I will graduate soon with an associate's degree, and would like to seek a permanent job after graduation. I guess my question is do I have any legal rights regarding health insurance coverage for a pre-existing condition?

Brette's Answer: This is an important question and really draws attention to why health insurance is a critical issue in our country. You have a few options.

First of all, you need to understand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act allows you to obtain insurance on a continuous basis even if you have a pre-existing condition. After a divorce, you can continue under your husband's policy under COBRA for 36 months. You will have to pay the costs of the premiums, but will able to continue the insurance under his plan at the costs your employer gets it at. Once that runs out, you would need to find another health insurance plan.

There are options - such as state sponsored plans or joining a chamber of commerce or other professional organization to obtain coverage. Many states have health insurance available on an income-based sliding scale, so you may be able to obtain affordable insurance that way. If you qualify, you could also obtain Medicaid, however, this usually excludes the "working poor". Once you graduate, you may be able to find a job with benefits. Talk to the career counselors at your school about where to look for a job.

Can he be ordered to keep ongoing health insurance for me?

Cathy's Question: I was married for 22 years. Recently, I had surgery and have a lot of ongoing health problems which will require medication for the rest of my life. Now I may have to do without insurance, and he wants to quit paying for my medications. What can I do to make sure my medical bills get paid?

Brette's Answer: You can ask the court to order your ex to pay for your health insurance, or your medical bills. The decision will be based on your situation, but health insurance is most definitely something courts will order as part of alimony. Talk to your attorney.

Will court ordered ongoing insurance be through COBRA?

Susan's Question: I had gastric bypass 6 months ago and my biggest worry is health care. My husband stated he would be willing to keep me on his insurance after the divorce. If it is court ordered does the insurance company have to comply? Or will I be forced to pay the COBRA cost instead of what he currently pays for the policy?

Brette's Answer: He's not permitted to keep you on. The court can't order that. They could however order that he pay for your insurance.

Am I covered if I'm pregnant by another man?

Cat's Question: I've been separated for 6 months and we are now in the process of a contested divorce. I just found out that I am pregnant by another man. I have my husband's insurance and he won't drop me, but this divorce can take up to 9 months before it's over. What can I do if I need to go to the doctor?

Brette's Answer: The fact that the baby is not his does not affect your right to be covered by his insurance. Stay on the insurance and get medical treatment. When your divorce is finalized you will have the option of continuing it through COBRA.

Can he drop me from his insurance before the divorce is final?

Marianne's Question: We are filing for divorce and he took me off his insurance plan at work. He told me I must get health insurance for myself because he has been put on notice by his company "that what we are doing is illegal" (meaning my being insured while we are not living together). Can he legally drop my from his insurance before the divorce is final?

Brette's Answer: It actually varies from state to state and employer to employer. Some employers and insurers will stop coverage as of the date of separation, not the date of divorce. You can call the HR department at his company and ask what the rules are. Even if you are not allowed to stay on his plan, you are always entitled to continue health insurance through your spouse under COBRA if the company has more than 20 employees. You should consult an attorney who can advise you how to handle the situation and what your options are.

Can I drop him from my insurance before I file for divorce?

Patty's Question: I haven't filed for a divorce yet, but I'm going to. I am the one who carries the health insurance on my husband through my employer so it is deducted from my check. I need this money to live on since he does not provide me with anything. Can I stop his health insurance before I file for divorce?

Brette: You can, but it's likely the court might order you to continue it - it depends on all of the financial circumstances. What you could consider doing it asking your husband to pay you the difference between a single policy and a family policy.

Can his lawyer make me put him back on my policy?

Karen's Question: My husband walked out on me 2 months ago, so I took him off my insurance policy. Now his attorney is saying that he has to be put back on. I was also told that he doesn't have to help me with any of the household bills because the house isn't in his name. Could you give me some advice?

Brette's Answer: First of all, his attorney does not get to dictate what you do. Only the court can order you to do anything. It is possible you can be ordered to put him on your insurance, but that's for the court to decide. Both the health insurance and the bills are going to be an issue of spousal support and that's going to depend on the entire financial picture. You should get an attorney to represent you in this.

Children's Health Insurance and Divorce

Can I make him carry insurance on our daughter?

Fallon's Question: Can I legally make him put our daughter on his insurance once she is born?

Brette's Answer: Yes, you can request that he carry the insurance, and you can also file for child support as well. Good luck with this.

What if I'm required to carry insurance but can't afford it?

Nicole's Question: I am divorced and in my decree I am to carry health insurance for my children. I refused cobra because it was too high and I have 3 children. With what I am collecting plus support I am bringing in 810.00 a week. My children's medication without insurance is 600.00 a month. I make too much for assistance and he's telling me he only has to pay for un-reimbursed medical and is saying I am in contempt for not having insurance. Is this true?

Brette's Answer: If you were ordered to provide the insurance and do not, then yes, you are in contempt. Have you checked into a state health insurance for children? Many states offer programs that are billed on a sliding scale. You could also seek to modify your order based on your financial circumstances and the medical costs involved.

Can I force my ex to assume health insurance responsibilities?

Vicki's Question: According to our divorce decree, I have a physical custody of our kids and I'm supposed to provide their health insurance. Can I force my ex-husband to assume health insurance responsibilities?

Brette's Answer: You can ask the court to modify the order if you have a reason for the change.

Is he required to carry the same benefits as when we divorced?

Lisa's Question: My ex recently started a different job than he had at the time of our divorce settlement. Our original decree ordered him to carry health insurance for our children and it had a low deductible and prescription drug plan. His new insurance has a very high deductible and no prescription drug plan. Does he have to find insurance that matches what he had at the time of our divorce? If he refuses, can I take him to court?

Brette's Answer: It's unlikely the court would order that since he isn't given much choice about insurance plans through his employer, most likely. You could seek to have child support modified to include the higher medical costs.

Do I have to pay half the premiums if I'm the primary parent?

Gail's Asks: My soon-to-be ex has our daughter on his health insurance since I have a temp job. He wants me to pay for half of the health insurance for my daughter, which he gets coverage through his work. I have more placement now than he does, so why should I have to pay him half? He's been able to afford it for 4 years; he can surely still afford it now. Is it the law that I have to pay for half of what his work's medical insurance is?

Brette's Answer: No, you would only be required to pay if the court ordered you as part of the child support arrangement. Since you are the primary parent, it is unlikely you would be required to pay.

Would the courts make him continue insurance on my daughter?

Pamela's Question: My husband walked out of the marriage one month ago with no notice. When we married, my husband put my daughter on his employer's insurance because she has Cystic Fibrosis. He is now threatening that he will take my daughter off his insurance. Would the courts continue to make him cover her? Can I also request that he now cover me under his insurance?

Brette's Answer: I'm assuming your daughter is not your husband's biological child and that he did not adopt her. If that is the case, he has no obligation to support her. You could purchase COBRA insurance based on his policy (through her most likely) and would then need to find other insurance. You can ask that he be required to pay for your health insurance as part of your divorce settlement or judgment - there's no way to predict how a court would rule without knowing all of the circumstances involved.

Do I have to keep his daughter on my plan until the divorce is final?

Danielle's Question: My husband was court ordered to keep insurance on his daughter (which is my step-daughter). He was self-employed, so I added her to my plan. We're separated and going to start the divorce process. Am I obligated to keep his daughter on my plan until the divorce is final...or can I remove her from my insurance (or is she also my responsibility)?

Brette's Answer: You have no legal obligation to a child that is not your own.

Is he required to provide health insurance for our grand baby?

Kathy's Question: Is my ex-husband required to provide health insurance for our 16 year old daughter's baby?

Brette's Answer: No

How long is he supposed to carry health insurance on our child?

Bobbi's Question: In our divorce decree it stated my ex was responsible for paying 60% of medical costs as well as carrying both children on his insurance. The youngest is 23 and in her first year of law school and still considered a covered dependent. My ex lost his job, as well as the insurance he carried on my daughter. He said per the divorce decree his obligation to his children ended when they turned 18. The decree does not say how long he is to carry the insurance. When does the coverage obligation end?

Brette's Answer: In most states it continues to age 18 or 21, depending on state law or how the decree is worded.

What can I do if he dropped our child from his insurance?

Lisa's Question: My ex-husband recently married and he said he can no longer afford all of my daughter's medical insurance since he added his new wife. I read over our divorce papers and it does read that he pays for her insurance. What can I do if he drops our daughter from the policy?

Brette's Answer: File for enforcement or a violation. If he's responsible for paying it, the court will make him pay for it.

What if the portion allocated to providing health insurance isn't used?

Amy's Question: My husband's ex-wife is not using the specific part of the child support allocated to providing health insurance on health insurance for their child. We know because the child is on my employer's health care...what do we do?

Brette's Answer: Is she required to provide health insurance under your order? If so, your husband should seek to have the order modified to reflect the current situation.

He wants to put the kids on his plan even though mine is better.

Melinda's Question: My ex filed a request for modification to put our kids on his medical insurance instead of mine, even though they have been on mine for over ten years. Mine is a better plan with a lower deductible, and he pays 1/4 of my premiums. One of our children has special needs and a lot of regular medical appointments. Would a judge grant the modification?

Brette's Answer: I think the court is likely to keep the children on the plan that is the better plan with the most coverage, particularly if there are special needs.

Can I switch the coverage obligation from my ex to my new spouse?

Pamela's Question: I am divorced and we have a daughter together. Our decree states he is to be responsible for medical insurance for her. I am now remarried and we have decided to modify the decree to read that my new husband is able to cover her medical insurance. How should the modification read and what is the legal procedure that the court recognizes?

Brette's Answer: If that is what you want to do, you need to file a motion to modify the order and simply ask that the provision about health insurance be removed. I would suggest you not completely remove it though. If your husband should lose his job or no longer have coverage, you want a backup plan, so the best choice might be to say that your ex will not be responsible for health insurance as long as your husband has a free plan through his employer.

Can we both carry coverage on our daughter?

Jean's Question: Can my ex and I both carry health insurance policies on our daughter? In other words can my ex-spouse use his plan like a primary insurance and I use my insurance as a secondary insurance? In the divorce I consented to paying for health insurance for our child. However, we have found she has leukemia and the bills are high.

Brette's Answer: If your daughter is carried on both policies, you should be able to do so. This really has nothing to do with your divorce.

Can I take my kids off his policy and seek Medicaid coverage?

Vicky's Question: My ex was ordered by the court to include the kids on his medical coverage thru his employer. Can I take the kids off his medical coverage to seek Medicaid coverage from the government?

Brette's Answer: You can try, but it's likely that if they have other insurance available to them that they won't qualify. I would suggest you call and ask in advance before doing anything.

Can his new wife be required to put our kids on her insurance?

Jill's Question: Our divorce currently says that my ex will provide insurance for our daughter though his work. His new wife has insurance through her work, and they are refusing to pick our daughter on her policy. How do I modify the divorce to include this?

Brette's Reply: You can ask for a modification to the insurance clause, however you have to understand the court has no jurisdiction over his new wife - she is not a party to your divorce, so the court can't order her to add your child to her insurance.

Is it legal for his new wife to put our kids on her insurance?

Janice's Question: When we negotiated our divorce 3 years ago, he agreed to continue to cover our 2 children under his health insurance plan through work. He remarried 2 years ago and he recently changed his health insurance election so that he and MY 2 children are now covered under HER health insurance. He said that he did this in order to avoid an interruption in health coverage when he leaves his job. How can MY children be listed as HER dependents for health insurance purposes? I am not happy about this for a number of reasons, but the most important reason is that I don't think it is legal.

Brette's Reply: It depends on the policies and rules the employer and insurer have. I would think you would be glad your children have coverage. Good luck.

Post-divorce Insurance Issues:

Am I required to carry health coverage on him after the divorce is final?

Melanie's Question: I carried the medical insurance on my husband during our marriage. Am I required to cover him after the divorce is final? It was not court ordered.

Brette's Answer: No. After divorce your spouse can continue the coverage through COBRA. If you are not ordered to pay for his insurance, it is not your responsibility.

When can I drop my husband from my medical policy?

Cheryl's Question: How long do I have to wait to drop my husband from my medical after the divorce papers are filed?

Brette's Answer: Generally, once the divorce is finalized, you remove the spouse from the policy.

Is he still covered on my insurance if our divorce has been finalized?

Sandra's Question: It never mentioned in our final divorce decree WHEN my husband is off of my health insurance. When there is an omission like that.... is there a rule to default to? We can't figure out when his coverage ends.

Brette Answers: You'll need to consult with an attorney about the wording in your decree. In general, you can no longer keep him on your policy once you are divorced. You need to check with the HR manager -- some policies end coverage at date of separation or at other dates. He has the option of continuing the coverage through COBRA. Who pays for that would be indicated in the decree. COBRA lasts 36 months. After that, he has to get his own policy. Again, who pays for that would be indicated in the decree.

Can I stay on his policy if they don't know about our divorce?

Loubna's Question: Can I stay on my husband's policy after divorce if he doesn't tell his employer that the divorce is finalized?

Brette's Answer: Health insurance is only available to spouses and children. Once you are divorced you are not eligible. You can however elect to continue coverage under COBRA by paying the cost of the insurance.

Can we get in trouble if I stay on my ex's policy?

Leslie's Question: What recourse can be taken by my ex-husband's health insurance company if I were to remain on his plan after the divorce due to ignorance with the laws?

Brette's Answer: Both of you could be liable for fraud. Your husband would be committing fraud by failing to inform the insurance company, and you would be considered an accessory by continuing to use the insurance.

Can I use the insurance if his company kept me on the policy?

Angie's Question: I've been divorced for 2 years. At the time I was on his company medical policy and I wanted to purchase the spouse COBRA. The company HR department said he could continue carrying me on his policy. I was skeptical about it, but they were sure about it so I continued on his policy. I asked our divorce lawyer last year, and he said it should be ok if the company willing let me be on the policy. Are they right? Can I use the coverage to go to the doctor?

Brette's Answer: If you have the coverage you can use it. Most employees and insurance companies will not allow a divorced spouse to continue on the policy, but if it's being permitted in your case, that's great.

Is she covered by COBRA if she didn't start right after divorce?

Monica's Question: My sister divorced three months ago. She was trying to get insurance coverage to replace being on her husband's policy (because the COBRA premiums were more than she could afford) when she broke her arm. Now that she broke her arm, she cannot get insurance and HAS to do the COBRA. But she is afraid that the insurance company will see that she was injured after the divorce was final. She was never trying to commit fraud but was only having a very hard time getting coverage and was told to not cancel insurance before getting a replacement policy.

Brette's Answer: If she didn't cancel the COBRA it isn't a problem. Pay the premium and she'll have coverage.

What if the insurance company wants me to pay back medical costs for the 6 years I was mistakenly covered?

Crystal's Question: I am totally freaking out. My ex-husband is a federal employee and we were divorced six years ago. He agreed to cover me on his insurance until I could get through nursing school and obtain some. So today I called the insurance company and they stated that I should not have been covered and I have to pay back the med bills from the last six years. What is the process for this? It was an ignorant mistake but a mistake none the less.

Brette's Answer: Unfortunately it is true that you cannot remain on the policy after divorce. However, you should be able to convert it to a COBRA policy for a portion of those years. You will need an attorney who can negotiate with them - I'm sure some kind of settlement can be reached.

What if he isn't paying half the insurance costs like ordered?

Hannelore's Question: My ex-husband has never abided by all the terms of the divorce decree; he is supposed to have been paying 1/2 of the kid's insurance costs and owes me $3000. This has been going on for over three years now. What can I do to have this changed?

Brette's Answer: Go back to court and file for enforcement/violation. Good luck.

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Brette Sember - Legal Expert

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