The recent passing of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) has thrown many ACA participants for a loop, but then again, health care rights and requirements have always been a source of confusion for the American public. This is particularly true for individuals whose health plans cover their spouses and children. When those spouses agree to divorce, one of the biggest concerns is the continuance of health care coverage. While most parents wouldn't think of cutting off coverage for their children, their soon-to-be former partner is a different story. Whether out of spite, or practical/ financial considerations, many people consider removing their spouse from their health plan right after they file for divorce. The problem is that the laws generally forbid you from doing so; they also forbid you from canceling life, auto, home and other insurance coverage prior to the final judgment.
Clear language for the need to maintain health insurance coverage during divorce can be seen in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(d): “Upon filing of a complaint action for a divorce, dissolution, nullify, or separate maintenance, where the custody, visitation or support of a minor child is an issue, the party who has maintained all existing insurance coverage... shall continue to maintain or continue to share in the cost of maintaining the coverage.” You may have noticed that the statute seems to be limited to spouses with children, but the courts have generally rule in favor of spousal coverage during divorce, even when the parties have no children in common. Another important aspect of the statute is the specification of situations other than divorce, such as “dissolution” for civil unions and “separate maintenance” 'for divorce from bed and breakfast (known as legal separation in other states).
The sad truth, however, is that many spouses do go ahead and cancel coverage upon the filing of the divorce complaint, and the other party doesn't find out until they go to a doctor or hospital. While insurance companies are required to send termination notices, those communications are likely to be directed at the spouse who holds the plan. If that spouse has already moved out, or requested that his or her mail be sent to another address, it could be a quite a long time before the other spouse becomes aware of the situation. In the meanwhile, bills for medications and prior treatments may have gone unpaid, and future treatments will require court intervention. While the court generally holds the responsible party liable for the lapse in coverage, how much the dependent spouse will be compensated depends on the other party's finances. After all, there's only so much to work with if that spouse is already paying alimony, child support, legal fees, etc. These are important considerations for all the involved parties, and should be discussed with an experienced family law attorney at the onset of your divorce. For more information on maintaining insurance coverage during your divorce, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.