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New Rule for Health Insurance Costs in Virginia Child Support

Virginia Code

Each year, the Virginia legislature considers numerous proposed updates to Virginia family law. These updates range from universally significant changes such as last year’s revised child support guidelines (updated for the first time in nearly thirty years), to the loosened notice requirements for finalizing uncontested divorces, to addressing the perhaps mundane question of whether or not courts should consolidate juvenile cases under single case numbers.

That trend has continued into 2015, with the legislature passing—and Governor McAuliffe signing into law— updated provisions concerning the amount of health insurance cost to be included in calculating child support in Virginia.

Virginia’s child support guidelines provide courts a method for determining child support based on each parent’s income, the support by either parent of “other children” (such as by prior marriages), day care expenses and health care costs. Under the new law, effective July 1, 2015, for purposes of child support the health insurance cost per child is determined by subtracting the cost of individual coverage for the policy holder from the total cost of coverage, and dividing the remainder by the number of remaining covered persons. Thus, if the parent has other children or a new spouse on a family plan, they will not get credit for child support purposes for the full cost of family plan coverage minus self-only coverage.

The previous language in the Virginia Code directed courts to consider the costs paid by a parent above and beyond the coverage for the parent or a spouse of the parent. However, that language did not produce a fair result in all cases, most notably in the case of blended families.

In today’s modern world, both parents in child support cases may have children from other relationships, or may have remarried someone and brought stepchildren into their lives. This proved problematic for child support calculations, as health insurance plans don’t differentiate coverage for children based on who their parent is; if a child is eligible for coverage they are simply covered. Moreover, most health insurance plans that offer coverage for more than just an individual provide options for “family” or “children,” with the cost being the same for an individual covering one child as it is for an individual covering a dozen children.

Under the prior law, some courts took the view that, because the cost was fixed without consideration of the number of children covered, the appropriate amount to use in child support calculations was the entire cost of providing coverage to all children because this is the cost incurred beyond covering the parent or parent’s spouse. Other courts took the opposite view that, because there was no increased cost for adding a third, or seventh, or twelfth, child, no additional cost be included because no additional cost was actually incurred by the parent. Both approaches were equally defensible under the previous Virginia Code provisions, and both approaches produced unfair results.

The updated language takes the sensible approach and directs the court to determine what cost is added by looking at the proportionate cost of covering children under the plan. In the absence of specific statements from the insurer as to what the cost per child is, the court will divide the cost for coverage of all children by the number of children subject to the child support order. If four children are being covered by a health insurance policy, but only two of the children are subject to a child support case, then the court applies one-half of the cost of insurance to the child support calculation.

Example. Husband and Wife have been divorced and have two sons. Husband remarries and has a daughter with his new wife. He covers his two sons, his new wife and his daughter under a family insurance plan. The total cost of the family plan coverage is $150 per month. Self-only coverage would be $50 per month. Under the new Virginia law, for purposes of child support Husband’s cost of insuring his two sons would be $50 per month. That figure is calculated as follows: $150 cost for family plan, less $50 cost for self-only = $100 per month; $100 per month divided by four people covered under the family plan (Husband’s two sons, new wife and daughter) = $25 per person; $25 x two sons = $50. Thus, in calculating child support between Husband and Wife for their two sons, the court would take into account Husband’s $50 per month health insurance cost for the boys.

Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously said “[t]he life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” What seemed to be straightforward direction to the judges resulted in inconsistency when dealing with these health insurance costs. Through experience, the legislature and courts have applied logic to come up with a fair way to address this issue for all parties, including blended families.

The family law attorneys of Livesay & Myers, P.C., are experienced in the issues unique to blended families, and diligently review updates to all aspects of Virginia family law to always remain at the forefront of the legal field. From our five convenient office locations, we represent clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.