Individuals contemplating divorce often, and rightfully, are concerned about the status of their health insurance. Health insurance is frequently carried by one or the other spouses through their employment. The question that most frequently arises is whether one spouse can cancel the other from their employer based health insurance upon filing of divorce.
The answer is probably not, at least not without violating a court order. Insurance policies are generally covered by a Temporary Domestic Order issued by the Court when you file for divorce. This “TDO” forbids the parties from canceling each other‘s insurance. In Bernalillo County, for example, the form TDO instructs the parties to “not drop or cancel any insurance policy, . . . including medical or dental or life insurance.” These orders may vary from county to county, but the general intent of them is to preserve the status quo while a divorce action is pending.
This does not mean that you can wait until your divorce is final to make arrangements for insurance following divorce, especially if you have a pre-existing condition that may impair your ability to obtain your own coverage. In fact, this is a very important consideration from the beginning of your journey through the divorce process.
If you are employed, first check with your employer to see whether it offers insurance and whether you qualify for the plan. You may need to work a certain threshold of hours per week to qualify for an employer plan. If you qualify, find out what the premiums are and what sort of coverage is offered. Most plans allow you to join upon certain major life changes, which usually include divorce, so you may not have to wait until a new plan year begins to obtain coverage.
If you don‘t have employer insurance available, you should apply for coverage with several insurers simultaneously to see whether you qualify for an individual policy. This is something to discuss with your attorney at the beginning of your case. If you are rejected, there are other possible options such as the New Mexico High Risk Insurance Pool and its federal counterpart. Some of the high risk insurance pool options will even cover pre-existing conditions if you satisfy strict plan requirements, so you definitely should not delay in consulting with representatives of these plans. There are also premium reduction opportunities for low income individuals.
Keep in mind that the Temporary Domestic Order is binding on the parties only through the finalization of the divorce. After that, not only may one party cancel the other from his or her insurance, it may not be possible to keep the ex spouse on the plan even if desired by both. This is in fact the most persuasive argument for a legal separation in lieu of divorce.
Health insurance is a major concern for divorcing individuals. The issue should be addressed very early since it may influence the course of the divorce, the marital settlement agreement, alimony issues and even weigh against filing for divorce at all.