Divorce is scary at the best of times, but if you’re suffering from a disability, it can be even worse. Everyone is worried about how, after divorce, they’ll be able to afford a lifestyle that is even remotely similar to the one they’ve been enjoying. When we’re talking less about paying for a house and more about extensive medical expenses, it’s even scarier.
When you’re a disabled wife, your financial concerns are even bigger than most wives, because you’re worried about your ability to continue to afford the treatments, procedures, and appointments you need to maintain your quality of life.
So, what issues are you facing? You’re worried about how to maintain your health insurance coverage. How to make sure you receive spousal support. How to get what you need out of the equitable distribution, too. There are a lot of issues, and you’re right to be thinking about them ahead of time, especially if you’re disabled. The time is definitely now to start asking these questions and preparing for what could happen.
What happens to health insurance during the divorce process? What about after divorce?
Health insurance is a pretty easy area of law, because there’s really no gray area. That being said, though, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy with the answer.
Health insurance coverage post divorce
Health insurance companies have rules about who can be covered under their policies. Usually, in a company sponsored policy (which is what most people have for health insurance coverage) only family members can be covered.
If your husband carries your health insurance, he won’t be able to continue to offer you coverage post divorce. It’s not because he’s a jerk (though he likely is, statistically speaking), it’s because the health insurance company won’t allow him to cover you under his policy. Once you’re divorced, you’re no longer a family member; legally, you become strangers.
Health insurance coverage after separation but before divorce
In the meantime, after separation but before divorce, generally the established convention is that whoever carried health insurance coverage before divorce would continue until the final divorce decree is entered.
…But how long can you drag it out? (Assuming, of course, that you want to drag it out.) That all depends. It depends on how motivated your husband is to finalize the divorce. It depends on whether you have a signed separation agreement. It depends on whether your divorce is going to be litigated. Typically (speaking in averages only), a divorce takes between 1-3 years to finalize, with 3 being on the very long end of that spectrum. Some go faster (like, for example, if you’ve got a signed separation agreement and no kids under the age of 18, and you can finalize after just 6 months of separation), and some go slower (usually, the highly contentious litigated ones).
Military health insurance coverage
Military health insurance coverage works the same as civilian health insurance coverage (meaning that you’d likely be maintained until entry of a final divorce decree, but then be on your own afterwards) unless you’re a 20/20/15, or 20/20/20 spouse.
20/20/15 Military Spouses
If you’re a 20/20/15 spouse (meaning that you were married at least twenty years, that your husband served at least twenty years, and that at least fifteen of those years overlapped), you’re eligible to receive health insurance for an additional year after your divorce is finalized. Yes—just one year.
20/20/20 Military Spouses
If you’re a 20/20/20 spouse (meaning that you were married at least twenty years, that your husband served at least twenty years, and that twenty of those years overlapped), you’re eligible to receive health insurance indefinitely, basically achieving the status of a retired military spouse.
What happens to my health insurance coverage after divorce? What should I do?
There’s not a whole lot you can do after divorce. If you were covered by your husband’s insurance, that coverage will terminate, unless you’re a military 20/20/15 or 20/20/20 spouse.
What are your options? Well, ideally, you’d have the option to jump on to your employer’s health insurance policy. A divorce is one of those kind of triggering events that means you can enroll without waiting for the typical enrollment period.
If, however, you don’t have an employer, or you don’t have an employer who is currently offering you health insurance, you have a couple of options. You may want to look for a job that does offer health insurance, or you may want to look for private health insurance. You can even look into your options with COBRA.
What if I’m too disabled to work?
Working may or may not be possible for you, depending on your level of disability. I was just listing options for you, not suggesting necessarily that any of those options are the best choice for you under the circumstances.
If you’re too disabled to work, you might talk to a social security disability attorney about your options. Can you qualify to receive social security income? That could help you, and I’d definitely recommend working with an attorney. Too many people without attorney help end up struggling through the process, only to have their claims denied later. It’s pretty tricky.
It’s probably not ideal. But…that’s how health insurance works, and there aren’t a lot of options there. Which is why planning in the beginning is so important. Disabled or not, there’s nothing I (or any other attorney) can do about how health insurance coverage works.
Unfortunately, it’s also too early on to really know what’s going to happen with Obamacare, and whether there’ll be other options for low income people with respect to health insurance. As far as that goes, we’re going to have to wait and see.
What about spousal support?
So, obviously, spousal support is probably pretty important to you, especially if you’re looking at a divorce, and you’re disabled.
When it comes to disability, it’s often very relevant when the disability surfaced. Is this something your husband knew about all along? Is it a new disability? It matters. If he married you knowing about this disability, it’s especially relevant—because it’ll be hard for him to argue at this point that he isn’t at least partially responsible for your care and maintenance post-divorce.
After all, that’s the root of spousal support. A husband takes on responsibility for a wife, and especially to the extent that you won’t be able to take care of yourself post-divorce. If he knew about this disability beforehand, that’s helpful information.
That’s not to say, though, that if he didn’t know, or if your disability is more recent, that your case is worse. It isn’t. It’s all a matter of what kind of disability you have, and how it impacts your life. What needs you have for the future, and to what degree your husband is able to help provide those needs.
A spousal support case is always based on a careful analysis of three things: (1) need and ability to pay, (2) the statutory factors, and (3) the duration of the marriage. To determine whether you’ll receive spousal support and, if so, for how much and for how long, we’ll have to look at a nuanced analysis of all of these factors. For more information on how spousal support works, click here.
Spousal support is loosey goosey; it’s not guaranteed, and it can be hard to predict. Your disability is certainly a factor in your favor, but a lot of other pieces to the puzzle have to fit, too.
What about equitable distribution?
Equitable distribution is the fancy word we use to describe how property is divided in Virginia divorce.
Regardless of your disability, you are entitled to a portion of the things that were earned, purchased, or acquired during the marriage (and, conversely, you are responsible for a portion of the liabilities). A marital residence, purchased and paid for during the marriage, is a marital asset, and you have an interest in the equity. Retirement accounts, investments, and pensions, too, provided that they were earned, purchased, or acquired during the marriage, are also subject to division.
You’re in the right place, and you’re asking the right questions. For more information, request a copy of our free book on divorce, or schedule a one on one appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys. Remember: disability is highly specific, and your case is unique. You’ll need to talk to someone about YOUR case, and what is reasonable for you under your specific circumstances.