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How HR Can Help an Employee Survive and Thrive Through a Divorce

By Scott Morgan

February 4 2013 - We frequently hear the phrase "a life changing event," without fully comprehending its meaning. Ask someone who has gone through a divorce to describe the experience and you will have a better understanding of how a single event can alter every aspect of a person's life from one's psychological and emotional well-being to short and long-term financial issues.

When looking for help during a divorce, few people consider the human resources department at their place of employment as a place to go for assistance. The HR professionals are trained to work with employees going through such life changing events as marriage, death of a spouse or divorce. They can help a person cope with divorce-related issues that include:

  • Updating personal information
  • Changing medical insurance coverage
  • Changing life insurance beneficiaries
  • Increasing or decreasing income tax withholding
  • Changing retirement accounts

Updating Personal Information

A divorce can become all-consuming of a person's time and energy. It's easy to forget the little things. This is when the people at HR can help. For example, changing personal information can be easily overlooked, but your employer's HR representative can assist you with the following:

  • Changing address information to reflect the fact that you no longer live with your spouse
  • Updating your name if you are a woman and will be resuming the use of a prior surname
  • Removing your former spouse as the contact person in the event of an emergency

Life Insurance

Chances are that your former spouse is named as the beneficiary on the life insurance policy you have through your employer. Unless your divorce settlement requires that you keep your spouse as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, the HR representatives can assist you by completing the paperwork to remove your spouse and add another person as your beneficiary.

Medical Insurance Coverage

A divorce is considered a COBRA event. That may not mean anything to you, but its importance will not be lost on your HR representative. Once your divorce is final, your former spouse is no longer eligible for coverage as a dependent under your medical or dental insurance and must be removed from the policy within 30 days from the date of the divorce.

Your HR representative will handle the cancellation of coverage and notice to your former spouse of the right to continue group coverage under the conditions established by state and federal COBRA regulations.

If you participate in your employer's flexible spending account program, your HR representative will explain how the divorce gives you the right to make changes in the account within 30 days from the date your divorce becomes final.

Your HR representative will also discuss changing your medical insurance coverage from family coverage to an individual plan. This is particularly important if you pay a portion of the premiums for the insurance coverage you have through your employer. The change from a family plan to individual coverage could significantly lower your costs per pay period.

If you have been covered under your former spouse's medical and dental plans, the human resources department can assist you in establishing coverage of your own. An HR representative can also explain your rights under COBRA to maintain coverage through your former spouse's policy.

Under a qualified medical child support order, you might be able to obtain health insurance coverage for your dependent children through your former spouse's group plan. A judgment or decree of divorce is a qualified medical child support order if it includes a provision requiring medical insurance coverage for your children. A human resources representative can explain eligibility guidelines that exist under federal law.

Retirement Accounts

Your divorce decree or judgment is considered a qualified domestic relations order if it gives your former spouse rights to receive all or a portion of your retirement benefits under the retirement plan with your employer. Your HR representative will make certain that changes are made to your retirement account to comply with the terms of your judgment or decree of divorce. If your divorce does not provide for sharing of your retirement account with your former spouse, human resources will assist you in making beneficiary changes.

Support Services

Helping you make the transition from married life into a life after divorce involves more than changing beneficiaries or updating addresses on company records. Some human resources departments can direct you to counseling services that can help make the transition easier for you.

About the Author

Scott Morgan is a board certified Houston divorce lawyer and founder of the Morgan Law Firm which has offices in both Houston and Austin.

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