Health Insurance “Tail” Doesn’t Wag the Divorce “Dog”

by Brian Vertz on March 18, 2013

The recent non-precedential decision in Deslam v. Deslam, No. 1237 WDA 2012 (March 15, 2013) presented the Superior Court with the dilemma of Ellen Deslam in the nadir of her third marriage, just 36 months from her Medicare eligibility date, after a five year union. Apparently the divorce raised no serious dispute over the division of marital property; the Superior Court’s opinion focused only on the issuance of a divorce decree and the award of alimony in the amount of $150 for six months.  On appeal Ellen argued that (a) the divorce decree should be delayed so she might remain dependent upon her husband’s employer-sponsored health insurance (at nominal cost) until she were eligible for Medicare; or (b) the amount and duration of alimony should bridge the health insurance gap until she should reach age 65. Ellen and her husband earned nearly-equal incomes, but Ellen had no health insurance benefits available to her through employment, and she argued that her physical and mental conditions prevented her from seeking new or additional employment.

Affirming the decision of the trial court, the Superior Court doubted its authority to delay a divorce decree for economic reasons, if the grounds for divorce were established. In this case, the parties had been separated for more than two years, while Ellen received the benefit of her husband’s health insurance coverage. Finally, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to award alimony for 6 months. Husband’s modest income from his employment as a Catholic school janitor did not afford him the capacity to subsidize his ex-wife’s health insurance for what would be six years, after a five year marriage. Perhaps Ellen might have to invade her nonmarital savings, $170,000.00, or borrow against her home. Husband had no home or savings. Even Ellen’s own counsel acknowledged on the record that Husband lacked the financial capacity to pay his ex-wife’s post-divorce health insurance premiums.

This decision was a non-precedential decision of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which cannot be cited in court for any reason. This summary is provided in the interest of lawyers and judges who might be interested in the logic and strategy involved in such decisions.

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