When you file for divorce, you want to begin the process of separation as much as possible. You open your own bank accounts, cancel joint credit cards, maybe even move out. A question that often comes up is whether you can remove your spouse from insurance policies before or during a divorce.
The answer is usually no. There are many types of insurance policies that people own: health, life, auto, homeowners. In Wisconsin, the court would typically enter an order that all insurance policies, and beneficiaries, remain in effect during the pendency of a divorce. This is hard to swallow for some people. However, you also need to consider that until the final judgment is entered, you are technically still married. And, as a married person, you still carry some responsibility and liability for your spouse. It is actually in your best interest to maintain insurance up until the date of your final divorce.
For example, if your spouse becomes ill, you are still liable for medical bills as a spouse. Even though the divorce court might not order that you are responsible for bills incurred after the date of the filing, creditors are not bound by family court orders. They technically could seek reimbursement from a spouse. Therefore, having health insurance in place is for your maximum protection for these types of debts.
Or, if your spouse is in a car accident for which they are at fault, you are certainly not liable for their actions. However, marital assets such as income, bank accounts or your home could be subject to collection actions. Having automobile insurance in place also reduces your risk in this situation.
Life insurance is the most difficult to justify – after all, if something happens to you, you certainly don’t want your soon-to-be-ex spouse to benefit. If you have children, though, it will be to your children’s benefit as well. And, if you have a long-term marriage, life insurance makes sense if you will have a maintenance (alimony) obligation. In other situations, however, the court may consider releasing you from your obligation to maintain life insurance for your spouse.
You can ask the court to order the other spouse to pay for or contribute to the cost of these insurance policies if appropriate. However, as indicated, it is really to your own benefit in most cases to maintain insurance for yourself and your spouse even during the pendency of a divorce.
Once a divorce is final, all obligations to carry insurance for your spouse cease. They may have the right to continue on your health insurance under COBRA at their own cost. They will be responsible for their own auto and life insurance. If you have minor children, however, you will most likely be ordered to maintain your life insurance and name them as beneficiaries.
*I am a Wisconsin divorce attorney and this information is intended to apply specifically to Wisconsin divorce law although it may be applicable in other states as well.