What Massachusetts laws govern health insurance during divorce and custody cases?
When seeking a divorce and/or dealing with custody of children, a question that often concerns individuals is the issue of health insurance coverage. This is a great question to bring up to your family law attorney; every situation pertaining to health insurance is different. When seeking the advice of a family law attorney, bring all information regarding your health insurance with you. When dealing with a divorce and all its complications, health insurance can be low on the list of priorities. However, it can become a point of contention, especially when there are children involved.
Generally, during a marriage, one spouse who is the holder of a health insurance policy will provide coverage to the other spouse and to the children in the family. Therefore, what happens upon dissolution of the marriage? Who will be responsible for providing the health insurance to the uninsured spouse and if necessary, to the children? In Massachusetts, the Judges of the Probate and Family Court determine who is responsible for health insurance coverage; they do so in conjunction with the state insurance laws.
How will coverage continue?
As with temporary support, at the commencement of divorce proceedings, a judge will address the health insurance issue. He or she will enter an order preventing either party from terminating or making changes to their existing coverage. Therefore, during the preliminary stages of the divorce, the insured spouse must continue providing insurance coverage to the other. As the divorce proceedings evolve, the judge will decide based on the insurance available to each spouse how coverage continues. Ultimately the judge decides if the insured spouse no longer has an obligation to provided insurance; if they must continue providing coverage; or whether they must reimburse the other spouse for finding independent insurance.
Under Massachusetts law, a spouse who is a member of a group insurance policy upon divorce will be obligated to provide insurance benefits to the ex-spouse under his or her plan, unless divorce judgment provides otherwise. Coverage under a group plan will continue until remarriage of either the member spouse or until a specific time stated in the divorce judgement.
In addition to determining who provides health insurance divorce, there are other factors to consider. This includes deductible and premium payments. Also, who will bear the burden of paying for medical expenses that insurance does not cover? When a divorce is finalized, all of these issues will be addressed and will become part of the divorce agreement.
Health care coverage is also a concern is when dealing with child custody issues. It is necessary to determine which parent will be responsible for providing the child or children with health insurance. Similar to spousal health insurance, Massachusetts family law in conjunction with the state insurance laws governs the question regarding health insurance coverage for a child . Note that while a judge must make these decisions in conformance with the laws, the judge will also consider several factors in determining which parent should provide the health insurance for the child. For example:
Which parent currently provides health insurance for the child/children?
Is the current coverage available at a reasonable cost?
Is providing health insurance going to cause a parent “undue hardship?”
Massachusetts law affords parents several avenues for providing health coverage for their children. These options include providing coverage through their employer, choosing to get coverage through MassHealth, or purchasing health insurance independently. Massachusetts law considers health care coverage a component of the child custody; therefore, a child’s health care coverage is mandatory in the child support order. Therefore, if neither parent can provide health care coverage for the child, the courts may allow the parents to come to a written agreement that the child will be covered in an alternative way, such as under the grandparent’s insurance.
Discuss issues with your family law attorney:
While navigating the child custody waters, it’s important to discuss with your family law attorney your concerns with providing health care coverage for your child. Generally, absent an agreement to the contrary, a judge can only order a parent who pays child support to provide health care coverage. However, a judge must use discretion and see if the available insurance can be obtained at a reasonable cost. The judge must determine whether providing it would cause the parent an “undue hardship”. The Massachusetts child support guidelines provide that if a parent can obtain health insurance from their employer, it will be available at a reasonable cost. For more information about your child’s health care coverage, you may consult the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, section II.h.
If the coverage is not available at a reasonable cost, or it would cause the parent to experience an “undue hardship,” the judge may not order the parent to provide health care coverage for the child. An undue hardship may arise when providing a child with health care coverage would prevent a parent from making child support payments, or if a child experiences extraordinary health care expenses and the cost would greatly exceed the coverage the parent is able to provide.
Ultimately, health insurance and health care coverage will likely come up in divorce and child custody cases. Are you experiencing family turmoil and are concerned about how it will affect you or your child’s health care coverage? Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? It is important to contact a family law attorney to discuss your options. If you need more information about family law, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form. We will respond to your phone call or submission promptly.