No, a spouse cannot cancel health insurance before divorce in California. Once a divorce petition is filed, automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROS) go into effect. These orders prevent either spouse from making any major changes to their finances or property without the other spouse’s consent or a court order. This includes canceling health insurance.
If a spouse attempts to cancel their spouse’s health insurance while a divorce is pending, the other spouse can file a motion for contempt of court. If the court finds that the spouse violated the ATROS, they may be ordered to pay fines, attorney’s fees, or even jailed.
Understanding Health Insurance and Divorce in California
Immediate Temporary Restraining Orders
When a spouse files a petition for divorce in California, the court automatically issues a summons that contains standard family law restraining orders (FL-110). These orders prohibit both parties from taking certain actions that would affect the rights and property of the other party, such as:
- Transferring, encumbering, hiding, or disposing of property except for business or life reasons.
- Life, health, auto, and disability insurance cancellation, modification, termination, or lapse.
- Create or alter a non-probate transfer that affects property disposition on death.
These orders are effective immediately upon service of the summons and remain in effect until a final judgment is entered, the petition is dismissed, or further order of the court. Violating these orders can result in civil or criminal penalties.
Impact on Coverage During Divorce Proceedings
The temporary restraining orders ensure that both spouses and their children maintain their existing health insurance coverage during the divorce process. The spouse who provides the coverage cannot drop the other spouse or change the policy without notifying the other spouse or obtaining a court order. The spouse who receives the coverage cannot enroll in another policy without informing the other spouse or getting a court order. The parties must also cooperate in filing and delivering any necessary claims forms and other documents for the purpose of paying health care expenses.
Potential Loss of Coverage After Divorce
Obtaining Health Insurance After Divorce
Once a divorce is finalized, the spouse who was covered under the other spouse’s health insurance policy will lose that coverage. This is because most health insurance plans only cover spouses who are legally married. The uninsured spouse will need to find alternative sources of health insurance, such as:
- Purchasing an individual policy through an employer, a private insurer, or a health insurance marketplace.
- Applying for public assistance programs such as Medi-Cal, Medicare, or Covered California.
- Joining a group plan through a professional association, a trade union, or an alumni organization.
Options for Continuing Coverage
The uninsured spouse may also have the option of continuing the former spouse’s health insurance coverage for a limited period of time under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). COBRA is a federal law that allows eligible individuals to continue their group health plan coverage when they lose it due to certain qualifying events, such as divorce. COBRA coverage is usually available for up to 18 months after divorce, but it can be extended under certain circumstances. However, COBRA coverage is not automatic. The uninsured spouse must notify the plan administrator within 60 days of the divorce and pay the full premium plus an administrative fee.
Handling Health Insurance Before and During Divorce
Seeking Court Permission to Cancel Spouse’s Coverage
If a spouse wants to cancel the other spouse’s health insurance coverage before divorce in California, they must first obtain permission from the court. This can be done by filing a request for order (FL-300) and explaining why they want to cancel or modify the coverage. The court will consider several factors before granting or denying the request, such as:
- The availability and cost of alternative coverage for both spouses and their children.
- The impact of canceling or modifying coverage on the health and welfare of both spouses and their children.
- The duration and extent of the existing coverage and how long it has been in place.
- The financial circumstances and needs of both spouses and their children.
- The best interests of both spouses and their children.
Considering the Impact on Children’s Coverage
Regardless of whether a spouse cancels or modifies the other spouse’s health insurance coverage before divorce in California, they must still provide adequate health insurance for their children after divorce. Health insurance for children is part of child support in California. The court will order one or both parents to maintain health insurance for their children as long as it is available at no cost or at a reasonable cost. If neither parent has access to affordable health insurance for their children, the court may order one or both parents to pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance.
Seeking Legal Assistance for Divorce and Health Insurance Matters
Finding a Knowledgeable Divorce Attorney
Divorce and health insurance are complex and interrelated issues that require expert guidance and representation. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can help a spouse understand their rights and obligations regarding health insurance before, during, and after divorce. A divorce attorney can also help a spouse negotiate, draft, and enforce a fair and reasonable divorce settlement that addresses health insurance and other important matters.
Addressing Post-Divorce Estate Planning and Advance Health Directives
After a divorce, a spouse may need to update their estate plan and advance health directives to reflect their changed circumstances. An estate plan is a set of legal documents that specify how a person wants their property and affairs to be handled after their death. An advance health directive is a legal document that specifies how a person wants their medical care and end-of-life decisions to be handled if they become incapacitated. A divorce attorney can help a spouse review and revise their estate plan and advance health directives to ensure that they are consistent with their current wishes and needs.
Navigating Business Formation and Insurance Changes
If a spouse owns or operates a business, they may need to make changes to their business structure and insurance coverage after a divorce. A business structure is the legal form of a business, such as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation, or a limited liability company. A business structure affects how a business is taxed, regulated, and liable for debts and lawsuits. A divorce attorney can help a spouse evaluate and modify their business structure to protect their assets and interests after a divorce. A divorce attorney can also help a spouse obtain or adjust their business insurance coverage to suit their new situation.