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One of the major issues couples face when they are ending their marriage is continuation of health insurance coverage.  People who receive coverage through their spouse’s employer worry that they will lose that coverage when the marriage ends. While the federal Affordable Care Act has improved access, insurance purchased privately remains expensive.

Wisconsin law and practice on this issue have changed in recent years; as a result, misconceptions abound.

Years ago, most employer-provided health insurance policies provided for termination of a spouse’s coverage upon divorce, but made no mention of legal separation. Since legal separation is identical in most relevant respects to divorce (see Divorce and Legal Separation), many couples retained health insurance for both spouses by opting for legal separation instead of divorce.

Today we step away from Wisconsin family law topics and into the realm of the personal. Attorneys take temporary leaves from the practice of law for many reasons, some voluntary, some not. My involuntary “vacation” from practicing law came in 2015, when I received a new kidney.

My family has a genetic disease – polycystic kidney disease – that progressively damages the kidneys. As my kidney functioning worsened and I became more ill and fatigued, the time I was able to devote to the practice of law decreased. Then, of course, I was completely unavailable professionally for months for surgery, hospitalizations, and recovery. My transplant was an unqualified success; I am back at the practice of law, and enjoying life more than I have in years. I am fortunate in having the best partners and staff in the world; they have been nothing but supportive and patient.

You probably guessed that a plug for organ donation was coming. Right this minute more than 100,000 people are on the kidney transplant waiting list in the United States alone; the average wait time is more than three years. Please consider letting your family and friends know that you would like your organs donated at your death. If you know someone in need, you could also consider living donation. My new kidney came from a friend with two healthy kidneys; she tells me she is feeling great and would do it again tomorrow if she could. If you are so inclined, you can even be a living donor to a stranger in need.

As many people know, the law arises primarily from two sources. First is the statutes, ordinances, and regulations promulgated by federal, state, and local governments and governmental bodies. The second source is caselaw – written decisions (opinions) from appellate courts that provide precedent for subsequent cases. Lawyers routinely use both kinds of law as we represent our clients in settlement negotiations, at trial, and on appeal.

Wisconsin caselaw consists of the written decisions of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the  Wisconsin Court of Appeals. While all Wisconsin Supreme Court opinions are published, the Court of Appeals determines in each case whether the decision should be “published” or “unpublished.” Wisconsin statutes set forth criteria for whether a decision should be published. Wis. Stats. § 809.23. Generally, a decision should be published if it addresses significant issues, creates a new rule or clarifies an old one, or resolves a conflict between previous decisions. Relatively few Court of Appeals cases are published. For example, according to the Court of Appeals Annual Report, only ten percent of 2015 Court of Appeals cases were published.

Why do we care whether a decision is published? For many years, in Wisconsin and many other jurisdictions, only published decisions could be used as precedent in subsequent cases. This rule caused much frustration for attorneys and limited the resources we could use in the zealous representation of our clients. Countless times we have found the perfect case, one that establishes beyond doubt that our client will prevail, only to realize that the case is unpublished and therefore of no use.