Health Insurance.  Access to it is so important that it some couples will get married just so the uninsured person can enroll on the insured person’s health insurance plan as his/her spouse[1].  If the marriage subsequently sours and a divorce action is commenced, what happens to the health insurance coverage pending the divorce?

Prior to 2009, the insured spouse could remove the other spouse from her health insurance plan, which sometimes occurred because the insured spouse did not want to pay the added cost for insuring the person she no longer wanted to be married to.  To prevent this from happening, the attorney for the uninsured spouse would have to seek a court order prohibiting the insured spouse from making changes the policy.  Prior to 2009, this was routine practice for matrimonial attorneys.

Piggy Bank Stethoscope
The cost of health insurance is a major concern during the divorce process. Photo courtesy of 401 (k) 2013 via the Creative Commons License

In 2009, the NY Legislature amended Section 236 of the Domestic Relations Law so that access to health insurance while the divorce action is pending would be a non-issue.   Today, if a divorce action is commenced, there is an automatic Order that is included with the divorce summons that prohibits either party from causing “the other party or the children of the marriage to be removed from any existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage, and each party shall maintain the existing medical, hospital, and dental insurance coverage in full force and effect.”  Plainly put – if you sue for a divorce, you or your spouse may not make any changes to the existing medical insurance while the divorce is pending.

So let’s fast forward to the end when a judgment of divorce is granted.  What happens to health insurance then?  This is an especially important question because a divorce will sever the ability of either person to be enrolled as a “spouse” on the other person’s health plan.

The judgment of divorce could direct the insured person to pay for health insurance for the uninsured person after the divorce for a certain period of time because the court has the power to make that direction.

If the judgment of divorce does not make such a provision for the uninsured person, then the uninsured person may be able to continue coverage on his former spouse’s insurance plan for up to 36 months by selecting the COBRA option.  There are strict rules and time limits that apply to COBRA benefits, and this information is available on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website (  COBRA benefits are typically very expensive to buy.

But now with the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), there may be better options on the health insurance exchange for the uninsured person to purchase coverage at a much lower cost.  New York has its own health insurance exchange, and more information about available coverage and the cost can be found here:


[1] Now that we have the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is some speculation that it will encourage couples not to get married to take advantage of greater subsidies (which are based on income).

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