A new term has arisen in recent years – the “medical divorce”. This refers to a situation where happily married spouses find themselves forced to take the drastic step of getting a divorce, in order to be able to service the medical care bills of an unwell spouse and not face bankruptcy.
The divorce is designed to prevent the financial ruin that can come about due to spiralling long-term medical costs—but the idea of sacrificing the marriage in order to maintain financial security can be extremely hard to process for happily married spouses.
While this situation has become more common as “grey divorce” numbers rise, it isn’t limited to the elderly. It may also apply to a young family caring for a very sick child. And having private health insurance is not necessarily the solution—in America, two thirds of bankruptcies are the result of medical bills, but in more than three quarters of those cases, the families in fact did have health insurance.
When expensive health care isn’t covered by private health insurance or state assistance, it is easy for a couple to burn through a small nest egg and use up assets to pay for care, which is why the medical divorce for financial reasons has become another option to consider—even when the divorce itself could be seen as essentially a sham.
Medical divorce in Australia
Could this unpalatable scenario happen in Australia, given we often proudly consider our medical care system better than that of the US? Well, unfortunately, it already does. For example, MSN reported that the wife of a stroke victim is facing divorce in order to pay for her husband’s medical care bills. The wife says she loves her husband but the government is forcing her to divorce him.
Although the couple has a home (with mortgage), the house is seen as an asset and the government therefore won’t pay for the husband’s care in a nursing home because the couple part-owns their house. The wife was told she should sell the home to pay for her husband’s care, but this would render her and the couple’s child homeless. A divorce then represents a way this loving wife can have her husband reclassified as a “single disabled person” who is entitled to government assistance, without the wife needing to render herself penniless in the process. And yet – for loving couples, the prospect of a forced divorce for practical reasons can be a bitter pill to swallow.
How can couples avoid such a scenario, where if faced with an unexpected, debilitating medical episode, an unwanted divorce seems to be the only way to access assistance or avoid bankruptcy? To save a marriage from medical divorce in the future, experts recommend taking out individual health insurance policies rather than have a spouse on the working spouse’s policy, but individual plans are not cheap. Still, the best way to stave off the need for a medical divorce is to plan for the future now. See a financial counsellor, put contingency plans in place before anyone gets sick, and always make sure you obtain health insurance before any diagnosed illness arises.
If you need assistance with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.