While you are married you can be covered under your spouse’s health insurance because of your legal status as their husband or wife. If a divorce is commenced, during the divorce, you can maintain the health insurance because until the judgement of divorce is granted you are still husband and wife. In fact, at the time that the complaint for divorce is filed the filer must fill out and submit an insurance affidavit which lists all of the active insurance that is in effect, including health insurance. As well, the filer must state in the affidavit that they have not canceled or otherwise modified that insurance within 90 days of filing. However, once the divorce judgment is granted you are no longer husband and wife and you lose the married status for purposes of health insurance coverage. It is actually insurance fraud if you keep your spouse on your health insurance plan as your spouse after your divorce is finalized.
In 1986 congress passed legislation which required employers to offer employees and their immediate family members the option to elect to continue health insurance coverage through the employer when the employee’s employment has been terminated, or there has been a divorce or legal separation. The legislation is popularly called COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).
While COBRA continuation of coverage is available to a spouse after the divorce the premiums are generally quite expensive. This is because an employer typically pays a portion of the employee’s medical insurance premium. Once the employee is terminated the employer stops paying a portion of the medical insurance premium and the COBRA premium is basically the premium charged by the insurance company without the employer’s contribution to reducing the premium cost. For example, if your spouse works for a company that provides medical insurance benefits, and the cost to your spouse is $500 per month, the cost to the company for the insurance may be $800 per month. When your spouse drops you from their medical insurance after the divorce you can continue coverage with your spouse’s insurance company through his or her work, but your spouse’s employer is not going to pay any portion of the premium charged by the insurance company. In the example above you will be responsible for the full $800 per month rather than the reduced premium of $500 per month.
The employer has a short window of approximately 14 days after your coverage is dropped to notify you of your right to continuation of coverage under COBRA. The maximum amount of time that you can use COBRA continuation coverage post-divorce is 36 months.
It should be noted that even though a spouse loses health insurance coverage once the divorce is finalized, your children should not lose coverage. A court will require that during and after the divorce you or your spouse must maintain health insurance coverage for the children.
I have been practicing law in Northern New Jersey for over 20 years. My clients are residents of Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Hudson and Union counties. If you have questions about health care-related family law issues, or any other family issues (divorce, child support, custody, alimony, equitable distribution of assets, etc.) don’t hesitate to call me at 201-731-3086. Or contact me via e-mail using the contact form. The contact is at no charge to you, and the consultation is free.