Even though many divorces may be bitter and drawn out, spiting your soon to be ex-spouse is generally not a good idea. This is especially the case when it comes to your spouse’s medical insurance coverage. Even if you and your spouse do not have an amicable relationship, terminating your spouse’s medical insurance while you are separated can come back to haunt you with unintended consequences.
Separation Agreements and Property Settlement…
Legal separation is the precursor to divorce in North Carolina. In fact, a divorce may not be granted in North Carolina until the couple has been separated for one year. However, one year is too long to wait for any person to move on with their lives. While a married couple is separated, they may decide to draft a document, called a Separation Agreement and Property Settlement (SAPS) that governs the terms of their separation.
SAPS are a technically legally binding contracts between two spouses. Common subjects addressed under SAPS are child custody and visitation, property division, spousal support, and possession of the marital home. Basically, any area of life that the marriage touched upon previously may be addressed under a SAPS. This may, and usually does, include a clause that addresses medical insurance coverage in a marriage. It is quite common for both spouses to be covered under a group policy provided for by one spouse’s employment. Both spouses may agree that the employed spouse keeps the other on their medical insurance until the divorce is finalized.
…and Court Orders
There is no requirement under North Carolina law that a married couple who is separated voluntarily enter into a SAPS. However, if no SAPS is entered into and a disagreement arises, this forces the couple to petition a family court to intervene. This is also the case if a SAPS is agreed to but one or both parties do not abide by its terms. In such cases, a court may force one party to specifically perform his or her duties under the contract.
If no agreement was entered into before, the court will be forced to consider all circumstances and come to its own conclusions. This court order will most likely encompass a requirement that one spouse continue supporting the other in terms of providing medical insurance at least until the final divorce agreement is entered.
North Carolina’s Doctrine of Necessities
If you terminate a spouse’s medical insurance while you are separated, you may actually end up costing yourself more money than if you had not. North Carolina recognizes the common law doctrine known as the doctrine of necessities. When you are married, you are responsible for the cost of your spouse’s necessities. If your spouse receives food, clothing, shelter or any other necessity, you are liable under the law to pay for the cost of the necessities. In the context of medical costs, this means that if your spouse is injured while you are separated and incurs medical bills, you may be liable to the doctors and hospitals since you and your spouse are not yet divorced.
North Carolina Appellate Courts have continued to uphold this doctrine even in cases where individuals are legally separated. The only way to avoid this issue is if the hospital or medical provider has actual notice of the separation before they give medical treatment.
Only an attorney will be able to properly advise you of when it is best for you to drop your spouse or ex-spouse from your medical insurance. Doing so too early may violate a court order or make you liable to a third party for medical bills anyways.
Children and Your Medical Insurance
Determining who will pay for insurance coverage for any children of the marriage is often a part of the SAPS, as well as the final divorce agreement and child custody arrangement.
The two spouses may agree that the children will be covered under a parent’s employees’ group plan, or that one party will obtain private insurance. The parents may split the cost of insurance, or they may share costs, usually in proportion of their incomes. If neither spouse volunteers to continue providing insurance or does not have insurance at the time of the divorce, the court may order one parent or both parents to obtain and maintain medical insurance for their children.
If both parents are covered by insurance plans, one plan can be designated the primary insurance and the other secondary insurance. Secondary insurance will generally cover most or all expenses that the primary insurance companies do not cover.
Get Your Spouse off Your Life Insurance
As one final note, life insurance and other financial arrangements that have beneficiaries are an entirely separate matter from medical insurance. It is always a good idea to update your beneficiary forms on your life insurance in the event of a divorce. Most married couples name their spouse as the beneficiary on life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts and other income generating assets. If you are getting divorced, the odds are high that you do not want your ex-spouse to be the one inheriting your life insurance proceeds! Change those beneficiary forms immediately.
Do Not Attempt Separation and Divorce Alone
Divorce proceedings are often one of the hardest experiences that a person may go through. It is physically and emotionally draining and can dictate the terms of your future. Whether or not you should terminate your spouse’s medical insurance during separation is just one pitfall that you might stumble over.
Let someone be there to guide you through this difficult process and help make the process easier while securing your future. The dedicated divorce attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina at Remington & Dixon, PLLC have years of experience advocating for clients going through divorce. They have the knowledge and skills to advocate on your behalf and make sure that your interests are represented during divorce proceedings.