New Law on Health Insurance & Maryland Child Support Awards

Effective October 1, 2017, a new law will go into effect, expanding the definition of “health insurance” for child support purposes. HB926 (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2017RS/bills/hb/hb0926T.pdf) passed the Senate unanimously and almost so in the House (126-1), and goes into law if not vetoed by the Governor by May 1, 2017 (which is not anticipated).

Currently, when determining child support under Family Law Article §12-204 (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmStatutesText.aspx…), the child support guidelines calculation shall include “[a]ny actual cost of providing health insurance coverage for a child for whom the parents are jointly and severally responsible…and shall be divided by the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes.” “Health insurance” is not now defined. HB926 revises Family Law Article §12-201 (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmStatutesText.aspx…), to define “health insurance” to include medical, dental, prescription drug, and vision insurances.

According to a witness at the House JUD Hearing on this bill, the court refused to include the cost of actual insurances other than medical coverage. While appearing like a mere technical fix, HB926 will provide greater consistency for child support decisions across the state because it leaves no doubt about the types of insurances that shall be included. The guiding principal of the child support guidelines is consistency and predictability of child support awards across all Maryland jurisdictions. HB926 furthers this.

While this definitional addition may invite argument that a parent not providing those insurances should, referring to Family Law Article §12-204, the guidelines shall include the “actual cost” of coverage for the child(ren). Not the cost of “available” or “potential” or “possible” coverage. However, a separate statute – Family Law Article §12-102 (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmStatutesText.aspx…) – empowers the court to order a parent to include the child(ren) on “health insurance coverage”. §12-102 separately defines “health insurance coverage” as “any type of health care coverage under which medical care services can be provided to the child through an insurer”. This is conditioned, in most cases, upon the availability of such coverage to a parent through employer-provided group health insurance and at a reasonable cost.

So, a reinstatement or expansion of a child’s coverage under Family Law Article §12-102 is a separate issue from inclusion of the cost of a child’s actual health insurance in the guidelines when calculating child support pursuant to Family Law Article §12-204.

Many may find HB926 to mirror actual experience in many jurisdictions and before many judges and magistrates. Effective October 1, 2017, experience becomes a requirement.

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