Paying for Your Wife's Healthcare in Divorce

By Heather Frances J.D.

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Spouses generally share healthcare expenses while they are married, but significant medical bills can cause a big fight when spouses are going through a divorce. Similarly, since most families share a health insurance plan, divorce can mean a big shift in a family's health insurance options. Depending on state law and the facts of your case, you could be required to pay for your wife's medical bills or insurance coverage during or after your divorce.

Medical Bills Are Debts

Medical bills incurred during a marriage are generally considered joint debts, meaning each spouse is responsible for paying the total amount of the debt. Like credit card debts or other liabilities, courts can split medical bills in your divorce. The judge in your case could force your spouse to pay for all of her past medical bills or you may have to pay a portion; it's up to your judge and your state's laws.

If your spouse continues to rack up medical debt while you are in the process of divorcing, you can ask your divorce court for a temporary order detailing how ongoing medical expenses are to be paid. For example, the divorce court could order that you each pay for your own medical costs and evenly split the costs of your children's medical care.

COBRA Health Insurance Options

If your spouse is insured through your employer-sponsored group health insurance plan, she will no longer be eligible for that insurance under the family plan you share. However, federal law, called COBRA, allows her to pay for continued coverage under that same group plan for a limited period of time. This type of insurance can be expensive because your employer is not required to contribute to the cost of her plan even though it contributes to the cost of your family plan.

If your spouse chooses to continue on your group plan, she must notify your plan's administrators of her intent within 60 days after the divorce. She can stay on the plan for a maximum of 36 months after your divorce.

Healthcare Reform

The Affordable Care Act established state and federal health insurance exchanges through which any adult can purchase insurance. The open enrollment period for these exchanges is October 1 through March 31 of each year, but divorcing spouses can enroll outside of this period. Thus, because of your divorce, your spouse may be able to obtain health insurance coverage through a health care exchange even if the open enrollment period has passed. Coverage options vary through these exchanges, but they may be more affordable than maintaining coverage through your employer's group plan under COBRA.

Divorce Decree Decides

Though your spouse has some options when it comes to maintaining her health insurance, you may end up shouldering some of the cost of that insurance. Depending on your state's laws, the divorce court can consider her health insurance costs, ongoing medical bills or other medical expenses when determining alimony or spousal support. For example, the court could award a larger alimony payment to a spouse who is likely to have high future healthcare costs and isn't able to work because of medical issues. Your divorce decree also establishes who pays for your children's health insurance and medical bills.