Can Divorce Affect a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

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Life does not stand still for litigation. If you are dealing with a divorce in addition to a personal injury claim, you may be wondering whether the settlement will be divided between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. A concurrent divorce can have a number of effects on a lawsuit and how a prevailing plaintiff collects compensation afterward.

Sometimes personal injury damages are paid all at once, and sometimes they are paid out over time. Either way, the courts apply the same analysis when determining how or whether to divide up that compensation. Having a trusted personal injury lawyer can help you understand if your personal injury claims would be included on the assets that would be divided once the divorce is completed.

Here are a few questions that can help you understand the possible effect of divorce on your personal injury case.

What Happens if You Get Divorced During an Injury Lawsuit?

This can depend on certain factors. You should know that your ex-spouse would still have a claim on your personal injury settlement, especially if they were impacted by the injury that you sustained. The actual amount will largely depend on when you receive the compensation and the types of damages for which you are being compensated. Damages are often awarded in personal injury claims for medical expenses, lost income from missed work, and any other costs related to the injury.

A personal injury settlement can be considered separate property or community property, depending on what damages are reimbursed. If the money or property used when you were injured came from community properties, then your ex-spouse would still have a claim on the personal injury settlement. If the injury impacted your spouse, anything of monetary value would likely be considered community property.


When the Plaintiff is Getting Divorced

A legal cause of action can be thought of as an asset in the same way as a house or bank account. A case that is pursued to the end could be worth a substantial sum, even after major expenses are paid. Quite often, a plaintiff will receive compensation for such things as lost future earnings, future medical expenses, or home upgrades to accommodate a disability.

Since a lawsuit is often worth quite a bit of money, it can easily become a source of contention in a divorce proceeding. Depending on the law that applies to the specific marriage and externalities like prenuptial agreements, the uninjured spouse may be entitled to a significant portion of a future judgment award or settlement. California is a community property state, which means that a married couple will have equal rights to the assets of the marriage, including a legal claim.


When the Defendant is Getting Divorced

A defendant’s divorce proceedings present an inverted set of issues to those raised by a plaintiff’s divorce. After a personal injury case settles or gets resolved through a trial, the defendant may owe the plaintiff a substantial debt. California’s community property rule applies here as well. Just as an ex-spouse may be entitled to compensation, in most situations both spouses face liability and debts associated with the litigation.

If the defendant is going through a divorce, one goal of the plaintiff’s lawyers will be to ensure that the divorce does not affect the plaintiff’s ability to get compensated for his or her injuries. Attorneys can take steps to ensure that disagreements between divorcing spouses do not detract from the compensation the injured plaintiff is entitled to. The actual details can be included in the settlement or the court decision.


Damages for Personal Injury

Any compensation given due to personal injury can be considered separate property. Your body is considered separate property, so if you received any compensation for injuries, like past and future pain and suffering, mental health problems, and physical anguish.  Separate property or non-marital property is any property, real or personal, acquired before marriage. This means it belongs to just one of the parties in a marriage.

Depending on the state jurisdiction, personal injury awards may be viewed as separate property, minus any compensation for lost wages. However, there are instances where these compensations would be considered community property.

If you agree to a settlement with the other party during an accident, the compensation might be considered community property if you fail to specifically allocate the amounts for the type of injury that you sustained. If the compensation is just considered as monetary compensation without any documentation, it would be considered community property.


Damages to Community Properties

Some damages from a personal injury settlement may be considered community property and others separate. Property accumulated during a marriage (other than gifts or inheritance) is generally considered community property and will be divided equally among the spouses in a divorce action. Not everything is divided in half, but each party has an equal claim on marital property and money. Personal injury settlements are usually divided into different types of benefits so there are certain benefits that are included or excluded from community property. Property such as vehicles and a spouse’s income are viewed as community property, so any compensation that reimburses those losses can be split.


When the Injury Occurred

The personal injury settlement is considered the separate property of the injured spouse if the injury occurred before marriage or after the spouses separated.  If the injury occurred during the marriage and before the parties separated, the personal injury settlement may be marital property even if the proceeds were paid after date of separation.


Why Was the Personal Injury Settlement Paid

Personal injury settlements paid for economic losses are typically treated as marital if the injury occurred during the marriage.  Economic losses include lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and medical expenses.  Personal injury settlements paid to cover economic losses enable the injured spouse to provide for their family as they presumably would have done had they not been injured.  Money paid for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering and disability, are usually the separate property of the injured spouse.


Can I Prevent My Ex-Spouse From Getting My Settlement?

In most cases, the answer is no. Your ex-spouse will always have a claim on your personal injury settlement because there are a lot of compensations that fall under community properties, which means that they should be divided equally.

However, you can always negotiate to ensure that you get the majority of the benefits. You just need a good lawyer to help you handle the case and they will make sure that most of the compensation will be awarded to you.


What Happens if I Filed for a Personal Injury Claim After Divorce, but the Injury Was Incurred During the Marriage?

This is a bit complicated because the law would always look at the possibility of your ex-spouse being impacted by the injury that you sustained during your marriage. Even if you only filed a claim after the divorce has been filed or finalized, your ex-spouse might still have a claim on the loss of income. This is also true if you suffered financial problems when you were injured. Your ex-spouse can use this as an excuse to get a part of your settlement.


Should You Speak with an Attorney?

We all understand that personal injury settlements and divorce are both complicated issues. If you are dealing with them at the same time, you will definitely need a professional lawyer to handle the case. Getting the right amount of compensation for a personal injury claim is already difficult, so you can already expect a lot of problems if you have to consider divorce in the equation.

Call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options for personal injury cases during a divorce. A free consultation is just a phone call away.


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