Planning ahead for health insurance coverage options can be one of the most important issues in divorce.
If you are covered under your spouse’s health insurance plan during the marriage, the likelihood is that your eligibility to remain covered under that plan will end once you are divorced (i.e. the day the judge signs your final order of divorce). For most, this raises two issues: 1) how to deal with healthcare coverage during the time that the divorce is pending; and 2) healthcare coverage options for when the divorce is final.
Healthcare Coverage While the Divorce is Pending
Virginia Code section 20-103 allows a court to enter orders “at any time” while a suit is “pending.” Among the things that a court can order pursuant to this provision is “an order that the other spouse provide health care coverage for the petitioning spouse… .” Since the separation period for divorce in Virginia is one year (there are exceptions, however), this allows a spouse to maintain healthcare coverage for this period.
Healthcare Coverage After the Divorce
Once a judge enters a divorce, the marital relationship is dissolved and the dependent spouse will likely no longer be eligible for coverage. There are some exceptions, however. For example, spouses of federal employees who are covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program may qualify for former spouse coverage if certain conditions are met. Similarly, former spouses of military servicemembers may qualify for military retiree healthcare benefits depending on the servicemembers length of service during the marriage.
Transitional healthcare coverage is also available that is designed to provide coverage once the divorce is final, until new coverage can be obtained. Under a federal law known as COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), most employers are required to make continued coverage available for spouses after a divorce.
If you are considering COBRA coverage, it is important to understand its limitation and important requirements. To begin with, COBRA coverage is not permanent. COBRA coverage is intended to be temporary and ends for the former spouse within 36 months. Further, if a spouse intends to elect for COBRA coverage, the employer’s health plan administrator must be given notice at least 60 days prior to the date of divorce.