With the elder population, a practitioner will eventually confront the “Medicaid divorce,” in which the parties may consider divorce so that the spouse on his/her way to a nursing home can qualify for Medicaid. That way, the thinking goes, the assets of the non-institutionalized spouse don’t have to be directed toward long-term-care costs.
First, divorce attorneys should work with experienced elder counsel in cases involving Medicaid. The area is too complex and dynamic to navigate without such assistance. Often, at the outset, the lawyer may find that there are options other than a divorce that may accomplish the parties’ goals.
Second, consider the statutory requirement that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Is this true in the divorce at issue? If the sole purpose of the divorce is Medicaid planning, that would suggest fraud. Or could you argue that the financial consequences of looming long-term care expenses have made the marriage untenable — and, therefore, the marriage is “irretrievably broken”?
Third, although the agreement may incorporate an ostensibly imbalanced financial settlement, it must be framed in accordance with our alimony and property division laws. To the parties, it may be Medicaid planning; to the court, it’s a divorce.
Fourth, in drafting any agreement that seeks to accomplish Medicaid planning goals, practitioners must consider the public policy of many states, including Massachusetts, that to the extent possible, neither spouse should become a public charge as a result of the divorce.