New York Divorce and Property Issues

Health Insurance Benefits After Divorce

By Staff Writer

In many families, it is typical for one spouse to provide health insurance coverage for the benefit of the entire family. Health insurance providers rarely allow a party to continue to provide insurance coverage for a former spouse following a divorce. If you have been covered under your spouse’s insurance plan during your marriage, you must address the issue of continued coverage either in the context of the divorce litigation or settlement negotiations.

While providers will rarely allow a party to continue to provide insurance for a former spouse during a divorce, a legal separation does not usually have this effect. Because a legal separation does not end the marital relationship, both spouses may usually remain on the pre-separation insurance policy, at the same cost and pursuant to the same terms as prior to the separation. For many parties who are in need of insurance, but cannot afford to purchase their own policy following a divorce, this is an attractive option.

If remaining separated, but not divorced, is not an option, and you are in need of continued insurance coverage, you should first examine any benefits to which you may be entitled. If you are employed and your employer offers a health insurance plan in which you are not enrolled, you should determine how quickly you can enroll in the plan. Many plans have specific enrollment periods that will limit when you can join the plan. You may also have to incur costs for the purchase of this insurance. Premium and other such health insurance costs can be raised as an issue in your divorce. It is not uncommon for one party to be required to pay the medical costs of the other following a divorce. If you were covered under your spouse’s employer provided health insurance policy during your marriage, you may also be entitled to COBRA benefits. COBRA is a Federal Law that requires employers with 20 or more employees to offer continued coverage to the former spouse’s of its employees following a divorce. Because many states have adopted their own COBRA-like laws that often allow coverage for a broader group of individuals, in determining if you are entitled to such coverage, you should check both Federal law and the law in your state.

If COBRA benefits are available, you will be entitled to remain on your spouse’s insurance policy. The continued coverage, however, does not have to be paid for by the employer. The premium for the COBRA coverage must be paid in full by you or by your former spouse. Not all employers are required to provide COBRA benefits. As such, you should check your spouse’s employer to ensure that these benefits will be available following your divorce.

COBRA does not provide coverage indefinitely. In most cases, benefits end after 18 months, at which time you will have to secure replacement coverage. Again, if you are eligible for COBRA benefits and would like to avail yourself to this coverage, your divorce settlement should address how replacement insurance will be secured, and who will bear the cost of such insurance, following the termination of COBRA benefits.