Divorce Laws on Court-Ordered Health Insurance

By Heather Frances J.D.


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Divorce changes your legal status, and you may lose health insurance benefits because you are no longer married. Your right to receive health insurance through your partner’s plan is frequently based on your marital status. However, some states allow a spouse to keep his ex-spouse on his health insurance plan, even after the divorce. A court in these states may require your spouse to continue your insurance coverage.

Continuing Coverage

Currently, most insurance regulations are state-specific, and state laws vary concerning whether an existing health insurance plan can continue to cover an ex-spouse once the divorce is final. For example, in Massachusetts, insurance plans are subject to Massachusetts’ insurance laws, which deem a divorced spouse eligible for the ex-spouse’s employer-provided group health plan -- until you remarry. However, the judge can order that your coverage continue after remarriage. Massachusetts judges generally must order the insured spouse to continue your coverage. Illinois also provides continued eligibility for spousal coverage under Illinois insurance plans.

COBRA Coverage

Some states, including New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania, do not provide for continued coverage when spouses divorce. In these states, an ex-spouse who is no longer insured following the divorce can apply for COBRA, a federally mandated program created by the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act, under which you can purchase individual coverage under your ex-spouse’s employer’s plan. In most cases, COBRA coverage for a divorced spouse only lasts for a maximum of 36 months. Under COBRA, you must pay the full employer’s cost for the policy unless your divorce decree or settlement agreement provides otherwise. The court can order your ex-spouse to maintain the individual plan for you or to contribute a certain amount of money every month to your plan, but these terms should be clearly indicated in your settlement agreement or divorce decree.

Coverage Orders

In states where an insurance plan must cover an ex-spouse, your settlement agreement or divorce decree should clearly spell out your ex-spouse’s obligations regarding continued coverage, including whether you or your ex-spouse must pay for the insurance or increases in payments, what happens when either of you remarry and what happens if insurance changes due to job change or job loss. Similarly, if your state does not require coverage for ex-spouses, any other arrangements you make should be included in your divorce decree or settlement agreement to make them enforceable later.

Insurance for Children

Typically, your children remain eligible for your ex-spouse’s employer-sponsored group health insurance plan, even after divorce. Your settlement agreement or divorce decree may indicate which spouse is responsible for your children’s health insurance coverage. Unless your divorce decree or settlement agreement requires your ex-spouse to continue coverage for your children, he might stop coverage at any time.