Divorce FAQ's

Divorce From Bed and Board and Health Insurance

1. What is the best reason to get a divorce from bed and board?

By far the best reason to obtain a divorce from bed and board is to try to keep the price of affordable health insurance affordable for both spouses. There are three options for a dependent spouse to obtain health insurance after a divorce. First, you could pursue a limited judgment of divorce or a divorce from bed and board. Thereafter, the dependent spouse can still be her spouse’s health plan. Second, you could apply for COBRA benefits, but it will cost you an arm and a leg. Third, you could simply go out and purchase your own health insurance policy.

2. What is a divorce from bed and board?

A divorce from bed and board is also called a limited divorce or a non-absolute divorce. A divorce from bed and board is authorized under the provisions under to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3. A divorce from bed and board can only be obtained if both parties agree to have one. You can’t file for a limited divorce if your spouse does not want to have one. If your spouse wants to get a full divorce, then you can’t force her to have a divorce from bed and board.

If the parties do agree to have divorce from bed and board then it can eventually be converted into a full divorce. It is important to note that a divorce from bed and board does not completely terminate the marriage. The parties are still legally married. However, in a divorce from bed and board the parties still resolve all of their financial issues. In summary in a divorce from bed and board the parties are economically divorced but they are still technically married. The major reason why ordinary people pursue a divorce from bed and board is to maintain health insurance coverage for both spouses. If a couple is divorced then the dependent spouse loses her right to retain health benefits from her husband’s health insurance plan. However, if the parties only obtain  divorce from bed and board then they are technically still married. Therefore, the dependent spouse can still retain her health benefits from her husband’s plan.

3. Why can a spouse still maintain health insurance benefits in a divorce from bed and board?

In a divorce from bed and board the parties are still technically married. Therefore, the dependent spouse in most cases can still remain eligible to receive family medical benefits. Each medical plan must provide a summary plan description. This plan must address what is the eligibility and participation requirements to participate in the health plan. The summary plan also must address who can qualify as a dependent, such as a partner, spouse, or child(ren).

Most health plans provide coverage for a lawfully married spouse. However, many plans also provide for a disqualification if the parties are legally separated. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3 constitutes the state law requirement to obviate the disqualification protocol. Nonetheless, if a health plan tries to disqualify a separated spouse, then your lawyer should file a post-judgment motion and try to legally compel the health plan to provide coverage. In the majority of the cases the courts will order the health plan to provide coverage for both spouses. Additionally, a divorce from bed and board will also permit the spouse of any person in the armed services to continue to receive health benefits under the TRI-CARE program.

4. What are some common scenarios to use a divorce from bed and board?

A divorce from bed and board can be used in a variety of scenarios. A dependent spouse may want to clean out the payor spouse for alimony. If the parties agree to a divorce from bed and board then maybe the amount of the alimony award could be reduced. Perhaps the dependent spouse needs to attend college or nursing school to build up her working skills. The couple can agree to have a divorce from bed and board for two years to give the dependent spouse time to rehabilitate herself and get her back into the working world. During this time period the dependent spouse can still maintain her health insurance coverage. After the two-year period is over, then the parties can apply to convert the limited divorce into a full absolute divorce. Finally, the parties may have chosen to get divorced in their later years. A dependent spouse may only be a few years away from qualifying to receive Medicare benefits. The parties could agree to a divorce from bed and board until the dependent spouse qualifies for Medicare benefits. Thereafter, once again the divorce from bed and board could be converted into a full divorce.

In summary, in this day and age it is critical that both parties be able to maintain their health insurance benefits after a divorce or separation. The price of paying for COBRA benefits can be outrageous. After many divorces the dependent spouse can’t possibly afford to pay for the COBRA payments. Therefore, a divorce from bed and board often provides a practical solution to provide health insurance coverage for both spouses after a separation.

Additionally, if a payor spouse agrees to a divorce from bed and board, then in the majority of cases, he can convince the dependent spouse to accept a lower alimony award. In many middle class families once a couple gets divorced there is only so much money to go around. Therefore, a divorce from bed and board often allows a separated couple to stretch their hard earned dollars to enable both of them to live separate from each other. It is certainly not the perfect solution. However, in many situations having a divorce from bed and board as compared to a full divorce are the lesser of the two evils.

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