Collecting From Divorced Patients in a Shared Debt State

Patient with budget trying to figure out healthcare debt collectionGoing through a divorce can be a very frustrating process, especially when legal proceedings are drawn out due to joint assets and debts. Recent separations can result in financial strains for patients and can potentially lead to bill neglect. Oftentimes, one party may object to paying their ex-spouse’s medical bills, as they assume that the responsibility is no longer theirs. In a situation such as this, hospitals and medical practices’ healthcare debt collection efforts can suffer, especially if employees are not trained in collecting from divorced patients.

If you live in a shared debt state and the patient you are collecting from is unavailable to contact or unwilling to work with you, you have every right to seek remuneration from their ex-spouse – that is, unless they have a legal document stating otherwise. Being aware of your state’s collection laws is of great importance as collectors often assume that a medical debt pertains only to the patient who incurred the debt and not to their ex- or soon-to-be ex-spouse. If your state is a shared debt state, then both partners are liable for any medical debts incurred during the marriage. The reason for this is that, by law, medical expenses are seen as ‘necessaries,’ or basic requirements of life.

Do the same rules apply for patients in common law marriages?

The same laws apply to common law marriages, provided you live in a common law state. Provided that both parties were living under the same roof at the time the medical debts were generated, each person can be held responsible for the other’s medical expenses. If you are confused about the collection laws in your state, revenue cycle partners can help you figure out who you can legally collect from.

What if a patient claims that they are no longer legally responsible for their debt?

In some cases during divorce proceedings, a judge can divide a couple’s debts equally – or not so equally – amongst the two parties. If one spouse does not have a job, for example, the other might be ordered to pay the full amount of the debt, whether the medical bills were theirs or not. If the couple has accumulated multiple debts, one spouse might be given the responsibility to pay half of the bills and the other spouse would be given the other half.

Ultimately, if you want to avoid the most amount of hassle, the best way to find out who is responsible for the medical debt owed to your organization is to simply ask your patient. If necessary, request a copy of the legal document that outlines their payment responsibility. Keep in mind that if you are provided with a legal document that specifically states who is fully responsible for paying off the debt owed to your practice, you are unable to initiate healthcare debt collection efforts against their ex-spouse.

Collecting from divorced patients can be complex, but it is important to be familiar with the process. If you are unfamiliar with your state’s collections laws regarding separated or divorced patients, consider seeking the advice of experienced revenue cycle partners to guarantee that your collections tactics are in line with the law. For information about state laws and other collection resources, click here.

This information is not to be construed as legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. Although we attempt to provide up-to-date information, laws and regulations often change. We make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of this document. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.
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