Divorce Litigation Bullet Points Part 4: Pension and Medical Expense

Finger-Pointing-300x200There are a lot of complicated components in family law that need to be addressed when a divorce takes place. That’s one of the reasons why I’m creating this bullet point guide, to help people find the answers to the questions that are most important to them.

In today’s guide, we’re going to be looking at the guidelines in place for things like health insurance and medical expenses when dealing with divorce.


Ongoing Health Insurance Benefits in Divorce

In most cases under New York Domestic Relations law, the courts will consider any assets accumulated during a marriage as “marital property”. However, this can leave a lot of things open to speculation. For instance, a question that often arises is how your divorce lawyer can ask a court to address pension and healthcare benefits in a divorce.

  • Typically, pension benefits can be subject to equitable distribution in a divorce. The pension benefits that a party accrues when married can be seen as a marital asset. However, the portion of benefits of obtained before the marriage and after the filing date of the divorce action isn’t considered an asset of the marriage. Pension plans, however, often contain more than just provisions for future financial compensation. These plans often provide for continued health insurance too.
  • While courts consider pension plans in equitable distribution, that’s not always the case for health insurance coverage. Courts issued an opinion a few years ago that a husband/s pension plan of lifetime healthcare coverage wasn’t a marital asset, and that it shouldn’t be split between the husband and wife. The court also noted that the wife wouldn’t totally lose out in this matter, because “loss of insurance benefits” would be considered in the equitable distribution analysis of other assets.  Keep in mind also, as part of the Automatic Orders involved with a litigated divorce, health and other insurance benefits that were in place before the filing date of the divorce must continue while the divorce is ongoing unless an agreement or court order is made to the contrary.

Can Courts Order Spouses to Pay Medical Expenses?

The courts are required to consider a lot of different information when it comes to splitting assets, including pension benefits in a divorce. For instance, when deciding whether a court can order a spouse to pay for the medical expenses of another, the court might look to the statute which deals with the payment of maintenance (aka alimony) or spousal support and consider the guidelines and reasons to deviate from the guidelines.

  • The divorce statute lists a number of factors that judges need to consider when deciding whether medical expenses must be paid by a spouse. However, none of these explicitly mention paying out medical expenses. Factors considered often include the health and age of the parties, the cost and availability of health insurance of both parties and more. They may also look at the present and future earning abilities of both parties.
  • There’s a catch-all factor in some court considerations that allows the court to address any other factor that they believe to be crucial and proper according to the case. This means that every case can be handled differently. Although it’s unlikely that the courts will ask a spouse to pay for the future medical expenses of a spouse, it may, in some instances be argued.
  • In these cases it is also important to distinguish expenses that have already occurred from future medical expenses. For expenses that have already been incurred, courts may assign those expenses to the other spouse as part of a process for the equitable distribution of assets and debts.

Health Insurance and Divorce

Another common issue in divorce, but one that’s frequently overlooked, is how the parties involved will deal with health insurance. A lot of families, including those with only one working partner, will rely on the health insurance benefits that they get through the other party’s employer. However, when a couple gets a divorce the insurance benefits are no longer available to the spouse.

  • One option for a non-working spouse that wants to obtain health insurance after a divorce is to use COBRA benefits. This is a federal law option that requires insurance companies to extend the coverage of a person to their qualifying beneficiaries in certain events. COBRA benefits are often offered to employees when a person is fired, but they can be available in a divorce too.
  • One issue with COBRA benefits is that they can sometimes be quite costly, because the employer won’t be covering any of the expense. This means that it’s hard to figure out how each spouse should pay for their health insurance options.
  • When parties can agree on the issue of health insurance, the agreement often prevails provided that it is fair. However, if the parties can’t come to a mutually acceptable agreement, then New York Supreme Courts have the right to determine the issue instead. Courts can order parties to purchase, assign, or maintain an insurance policy for either the spouse or children of the marriage.
  • The period for which a court will require a party to pay out of pocket to cover their ex-spouse’s health insurance is usually limited. The period is generally fixed in duration and will usually not exceed the length of any child support or spousal support payments that are required. Often though, each party will remain responsible for their own health insurance once a divorce takes place.

New York divorce can be very complicated, particularly when it comes to figuring out how pensions, health insurance, and other benefits should be split at the end of a marriage. If you have any concerns about the issues above, you can find extra information about them here on this blog.

Alternatively, if you have specific questions that you need to ask about the issues mentioned above, then you can contact me at your earliest convenience. You can get in touch either through my online contact form or use my phone number (516) 333-6555.

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