Health Care Reform and the Family Court

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States announced its landmark decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare” for the pundits out there).  While this will undoubtedly be a milestone decision, what does it mean for you in the context of your pending divorce?

The short answer in Massachusetts is that there are not any foreseeable changes to health insurance in the family court context.  Allocating responsibility for insurance coverage can be often overlooked while you’re negotiating “bigger” issues like where the kids will live with and whether the marital home will be sold.  In some cases, however, it can become an integral issue particularly in the divorce or custody proceeding.

The state of the law in Massachusetts is such that you may be required by the court to cover your spouse and/or your children on your health insurance.  By way of gross generalization, typically, the person who maintains the insurance coverage for the family during the marriage tends to be the person who will carry the obligation after the divorce.

If your insurance plan is Massachusetts-based, continuing coverage for your spouse should not pose a problem.  However, if your plan is based outside of the Commonwealth, they may not allow your spouse to stay on the plan after the divorce.

So then what happens?  Typically, if there is an extra charge in order to keep your now former spouse on your plan, he or she would be responsible for the difference in cost.  Using round numbers, if your insurance plan costs $600 per month for just yourself, but would be $850 to keep your former spouse covered after the divorce is final, your former spouse could be ordered to pay the $250 difference.

Now, if I can tell you anything about divorce cases it is that they are mostly fact-driven.  As an example, if you earn $500,000 per year and your former spouse has been out of the work force for 25 years, you may be ordered to pay the entire cost without contribution.  My point here is that health insurance coverage (as well as payment of uninsured medical expenses) is an issue that can slip through the cracks while you’re trying to figure out the parenting plan and who gets the house.

At the end of the day, health care is a major concern for all of us, no matter which side of the aisle you find yourself.  The family court judges are no different, and their primary focus will be on the well-being of your children.

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