Health Insurance Laws During Divorce in Texas
By Heather Frances J.D.
Families often obtain health insurance through one spouse’s employer-sponsored group plan; however, you likely will lose your eligibility for your spouse’s plan when your divorce becomes final. Texas judges typically issue temporary orders that keep the uninsured spouse on the insured spouse’s plan while the divorce is pending. After the divorce becomes final, Texas law does not force insurance companies to continue coverage for the uninsured ex-spouse, although federal law does provide an option.
Once you file for divorce in Texas, the court has the authority to issue orders that govern you and your spouse until the divorce is final. Typically, Texas courts will issue "standing" orders that apply automatically as soon as you file your divorce petition. Among other things, these orders prevent divorcing spouses from changing their health insurance arrangements while the divorce is pending, so your spouse cannot simply drop your health coverage because he is angry at you for filing for divorce. These standing orders typically protect your child’s health insurance as well, keeping your spouse from changing the child’s coverage until the divorce is final.
You lose your eligibility for your spouse’s health insurance coverage once your divorce is final. While an insurance company might allow you to stay on your spouse’s plan, Texas law does not require this, so insurance companies typically do not provide coverage for ex-spouses. Even if your ex-spouse wants to continue your coverage, he most likely could not keep you on his policy. Your children, however, remain eligible for coverage. The judge in your divorce case can order your spouse to maintain the kids’ coverage.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, widely known as COBRA, is a federal law that allows you to obtain coverage through your ex-spouse’s employer-based health plan after your divorce if the employer has at least 20 employees. But this coverage is typically expensive because you must pay the cost for your coverage without help from your ex-spouse's employer. Your ex-spouse’s employer does not have to contribute any of the costs as it did when you were still married, so you must pay the full cost for your own coverage plus 2 percent. But COBRA might still be less expensive than obtaining your own policy because you get the benefit of the employer's lower group rate. If you choose COBRA coverage, you must notify the plan administrator within 60 days after your divorce, and you are eligible to receive COBRA coverage for a maximum of 36 months.
During your divorce, you can ask the judge to order your spouse to pay temporary alimony, or alimony pendente lite, to help you support yourself until the divorce is final. Typically, courts will order temporary alimony when one spouse makes significantly more than the other -- and you can use this money to help you pay for health insurance or medical expenses you might have before the divorce is final. The judge can make alimony decisions final as part of your divorce decree, ordering your spouse to pay your expenses or pay cash directly to you. For example, if your health insurance expenses will increase significantly because of the divorce, and you can’t pay the higher amounts, the judge can order your spouse to pay for your health insurance.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.