Health Care Benefits

In Janice Cunninghamís article in the 2001 Special Issue of the Family Law Journal, "An Asset By Any Other Name", she argues for the division of health insurance benefits, for "when those benefits are guaranteed for life, it is a vested benefit no different than a pension." Assuming I understand her position, I donít agree. Health care benefits only exist to the extent a party is employed or retired. Any termination prior to retirement voids the "asset" and, hence, there is nothing to divide. There is no "pile of money". There is no QDRO option. And, in our society, it is usual for persons to move from job to job. At least as usual as a singular employment. See Boyd v. Boyd, 116 Mich App 774 (1982) holding that job seniority is neither an asset nor divisible since it "is only useful so long as the worker remains on the company payroll". Id at 785. 

If Ms. Cunningham is arguing the valuation should only accrue if the insurance is a vested part of a pension plan, she may have a point. But most plans, by my understanding, also cover the alternate payeeís insurance. Moreover, a present valuation seems problematic if, post divorce, the non-insured party acquires the same benefit by way of his or her employment. On the date of the divorce Spouse A hands over $ 50,000 as the present value of his health plan post retirement. One week late Spouse B retains the same health plan in her new employment. She can vest in the pension plan in five years and retain the same benefit possessed by Spouse A. Spouse A gets canned a week later. And the purpose of the transfer was?

I agree with the problem posited by the Cunningham article. I just donít agree with the solution. It seems to me the question should be does Spouse A have the obligation help defray or defray completely the cost of Spouse Bís health insurance coverage? This seems a more direct any legitimate question for the court to answer. On the other hand, I would not want to limit the court in fashioning remedies that might make sense under the facts of any individual case. There may be some scenario where most would agree a present valuation of the benefits makes sense.