When two parties get a divorce, they have to settle their debts. These can include mortgages, credit card bills, and even medical bills. Medical insurance often does not cover 100% of your medical costs. There are deductibles, co-pays, and even procedures that the insurance does not cover and therefore they need to be paid off.
First, let’s look at how marital debt is split. There are two ways to split marital debt, either equally or equitably. Equally means that each party gets an equal share of the debt, 50-50. Equitably refers to the debt being split unevenly but in a manner that the court deems is fair.
But who is responsible for medical bills in a divorce? That question depends on several factors. In common law states, you can be held liable for your ex-spouse’s medical bills by a healthcare agency. This is because the common law dictates that you are responsible for them.
Even if you don’t reside in one of these states, as long as you two were living together at the time, you can still be held responsible for the debt. In short, a healthcare agency can come after you for your spouse’s bills.
In most states, medical bills are considered marital debt, whether they are for the spouses involved or for the children. It does not matter whether the procedure was elective or necessary, the other spouse also need not have approved it.
There are states that use the community property rule for deciding how to divide up property and debts. This is where each spouse is entitled to half the property and half the debt gained throughout the marriage. However, there is an exemption. If one spouse is awarded a large asset that cannot be split easily, they can be given all of the medical debt as well.
Other states use the equitable division rule of splitting assets and bills. Everything is divided justly as determined by the court, but not necessarily equally. If the spouses can agree then the property and debts are split their way. If, however, no agreement can be reached, the court will rule on what it considers to be fair. When splitting medical debt equitably, it may go to either spouse as long as the division is seen as just by the court.
Creditors are not necessarily bound by a divorce decree. For instance, if a judge assigns the medical debt to the husband who then loses his job and can no longer make payments, the creditor can come after the wife to fulfill the rest of the obligation.
When it comes to children, the divorce decree will lay out what each spouse is responsible for paying what part. However, since both parents are responsible for their children’s well-being, both parents are technically responsible for payment. Children are afforded food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Since both parents are responsible for providing these necessities, medical bills also get split between the two parents.
How to Protect Yourself from Medical Debt
There are several things you can do to protect yourself from medical debt, one of those things being to monitor your credit files. Although medical bills don’t show up on credit reports, they will if they go into collections. Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian will show you these on their reports. So watch for any new debtors that come up in the future so you can dispute the charges.
Also, contact your health insurance company. Talk about any medical invoices that your ex-spouse has not paid. Things happen. Paperwork gets lost, bills get overcharged, and billing departments make mistakes. You may be able to give them information, which leads to them covering a portion of the bill.
You should also look at any copies you have of your ex-spouse’s medical bills. Read the fine print and see if you’re obligated to pay if he or she doesn’t in the case of divorce. The fine print also often spells out what healthcare industries will do if not paid.
Besides putting your bill into collections, some industries will also file lawsuits. Other times they will try to seize assets, garnish wages, or put a lien against your property. These are not typical, but you should be aware of the worst-case scenarios. Often it depends on the amount due, how much the provider thinks they can get out of you or your ex-spouse, and the laws of the state.
Understand Your Bills Before You File for Divorce
So who is responsible for medical bills in a divorce? Usually, both parties are. As long as those medical bills were obtained during the marriage, they will be split either equally or equitably. It doesn’t matter whether the bills were from necessary medical procedures or from elective procedures and the other spouse did not have to agree with the procedures at the time they were done in order for them to count.
Remember that debtors do not have to follow the letter of the divorce decree. If your ex-spouse isn’t paying, they can go after you for the money. In order to protect yourself, watch your credit report for any unusual collections. Read the fine print in any copies you have of your ex-spouse’s medical bills to see if you’ll be on the hook if your former spouse does not pay. And call your health insurance company about any outstanding invoices from your former mate. This will help you get a better idea of what to expect and you may be able to negotiate lower payments.
If you have any questions about who is responsible for medical bills in a divorce, ask your divorce attorney. They will be able to help you navigate through the muddy waters. It can be very confusing for the layperson to try to figure it out on their own. And if your ex-spouse isn’t paying his or her fair share and you have questions pertaining to whether or not you’re liable for their share, ask your attorney. He or she will be the fastest route to getting your questions answered with clarity.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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