Advised to Divorce Because Your Spouse Becomes Chronically Sick?

As a divorce lawyer and mediator, I wish health insurance and medical costs didn’t come into play in decisions to divorce, but they do.

I’ve told friends and family that I predict that in the near future people will plan their divorce around health insurance issues. Specifically, I predict that people will begin to get legal separations (when they otherwise would have gotten a divorce) that address every legal issue except they will still be legally married. Why would a married couple go through all this effort without actually getting a divorce? One reason, to keep their ex on their health insurance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard astonished couples–who are supposed to hate each other, right?–tell me that they want a divorce but they don’t want their spouse to lose health insurance coverage. They don’t, and frankly I don’t either, understand why they can’t still cover their ex under their health insurance.

Now, here’s a twist to that idea in an interesting article in the New York times titled Until Medical Bills Do Us Part that relays the experience of a happily married couple being advised by hospital staff that they should probably get divorced for financial reasons because one of them became chronically ill. The article states in part:

The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce.”

Of course, estate planning attorneys have been dealing with this issue for many years. They advise clients to move assets into their children’s names so that their clients appear poorer than they really are. One year they own a house and stocks and then the next year they have no assets and their children own everything. The New York Times article is just a slight twist on that idea. Instead of giving asset to the kids, they give them to their spouse…and then they get a divorce. In other words, divorce your husband or wife and give the healthy spouse all the assets.

This all ties into the current health insurance debate. Unfortunately, I don’t think this particular issue will be addressed anytime soon, but it’s something to consider.

Should people be able to cover their ex on their health insurance after a divorce? Isn’t there a problem on a public policy level when it makes sense to advise happily married couples to divorce for financial reasons when one of them becomes chronically ill?

Author of this post: Carl Arnold, Attorney and Mediator

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