This post was written by my colleagues Elizabeth Crowley and Lisa Cukier. A special congratulations to Elizabeth on her recent election to partner at Burns & Levinson!
Can you imagine bringing your child to an esteemed children’s hospital for care and medical treatment, only to have your child taken away from you and placed into state custody? Well, that was and is the reality of Justina Pelletier’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier of Connecticut.
The Pelletiers have been fighting for a year for their daughter, Justina, who they say suffers from mitochondrial disease (a rare genetic disorder with physical symptoms that can affect the entire body). First Justina was treated at Tufts Medical Center, then she was transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital. Doctors at Tuft’s Medical Center diagnosed her with mitochondrial disorder, but doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital say Justina’s symptoms were psychosomatic and did not result from mitochondrial disease.
Since the Pelletiers agreed with the diagnosis given by Tufts, they asked Children’s Hospital to treat their daughter medically. When Children’s refused, proposing psychiatric treatment instead, the Pelletiers advocated for their 15-year-old daughter as any loving parents would do. Instead of respecting their parental authority, however, Boston Children’s Hospital reported the Pelletiers to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) in February of 2013 for suspected child abuse, namely by denying her mental health therapy and subjecting her to invasive medical treatments for mitochondrial disorder. The Pelletiers refused to sign a proposed treatment plan for Justina, believing it to be the wrong course of treatment for their daughter.
The result? The Pelletiers were blocked from removing Justina from the Children’s Hospital. They were also blocked from having any say in her care and medical treatment. Justina was placed in a psychiatric ward at Children’s Hospital first and then in a residential treatment center. The Pelletiers are only allowed to see their daughter Justina for one-hour, supervised, each week. Since fall 2013 there has been a gag order on the case.
Slowly but surely, positive strides are being made for the Pelletiers. DCF brought the matter to court, and late last week they finally issued a statement announcing plans to return Justina to her home state of Connecticut. However, it is still unknown whether or not custody will be returned to her parents. No time frame has been set for her return, and the family only remains cautiously optimistic. In another small victory on Monday, a family court judge lifted the gag order on the case and ordered that Justina will now be treated by her original doctors at Tufts.
This heartbreaking and troublesome case raises a host of legal issues, including child custody and guardianship laws. And as the custody battle continues, with a court hearing scheduled March 17th to determine guardianship, Justina is without her parents and her sisters, deteriorating in the presence of strangers who think they know best.
April 15th is creeping up on us. I find doing my taxes while its snowing, AGAIN, a real insult.
This week and next week’s post were written by my terrific colleagues, Ron Barriere and Jen Green. They highlight a tricky complexity in the new health insurance laws for divorcing couples.
Divorcing spouses have many issues to consider in negotiating the terms of a divorce agreement. One of the seemingly “easier” issues for divorcing spouses and their counsel is health insurance. While the issue of health insurance coverage is typically included within the divorce agreement, the federal tax implications are often overlooked. Recent interpretations of federal tax law underscore the need for divorcing spouses to use skilled divorce counsel and tax practitioners in negotiating the terms of their divorce agreements.
It is commonplace for a divorce agreement to contemplate one spouse continuing to provide health care coverage through his/her employment for an ex-spouse. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”), the IRS will require reporting by the employer of the cost of such coverage of employer-sponsored insurance. In some instances, the reporting requirement may facilitate the apportionment of the cost of health coverage for divorced spouses. However, the insuring spouse must be forewarned of the possibility of being subject to tax on imputed income based on the fair market value of the insurance benefits being provided to his/her ex-spouse.
The likelihood of this imputation varies greatly from employer to employer, such that divorce counsel often cannot state with certainty whether or not an employee who continues to carry the health care coverage of his/her former spouse will in fact be subject to tax on imputed income. Therefore, it is extremely important to be cognizant of this issue and plan for the possibility of imputed income for continuing health care coverage of a former spouse. Following is a brief discussion of how imputed income works in connection with continuing health care coverage of a former spouse.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, employer-provided health insurance is typically considered a nontaxable fringe benefit to the employee. However, this exclusion only applies to coverage of the employee and the employee’s spouse, dependents, and children up to a certain age. It does not apply to the employee’s former spouse. The IRS views the health care coverage of a former spouse as a taxable fringe benefit to the employee, notwithstanding the fact that the former spouse may in fact be the one who pays for any additional coverage costs. The IRS has taken the position that the “fair market value” of health insurance benefits provided to a person who is not an employee’s spouse or dependent must be “imputed” to the employee and included in his/ her federal gross income.
The crux of this situation lies in the determination of the “fair market value” of the employer-provided health insurance benefits. This amount could vary greatly from employer to employer, depending on how much the employer provides for coverage. The income imputed to the employee is the value of the benefit provided by the employer, excluding the benefit paid for that employee.
In our next post we will explore how different employers and human resource departments are arriving at their calculations, and how divorcing spouses should consider imputed income in divorce agreements.
This time of year there are always articles making their way around the internet about relationships and marriages.
Facebook keeps all kinds of statistics and can tell from posts where folks are in their relationships. It is fascinating to me that they can track when the relationship gets serious, and when it goes bad.
There was another interesting piece on how the “cost” of sex has lessened, and how that affects choices for men and women differently (shades of my grandmother).
The most interesting piece, though, was a rather lengthy New York Times opinion piece on how marriages have changed and how the differences affect what we expect of marriage.