While divorce can be an emotionally overwhelming process, suffering a serious injury in an accident during proceedings can make matters more stressful and complicated. While it may be possible that your spouse may receive some of your personal injury settlement, the answer depends on the certain circumstances of your marriage.
According to California Family Code § 780, if the injury occurred during the course of the marriage, then the non-injured spouse will be entitled to half of the damages award if it’s for lost earnings or reimbursement for medical expenses or damaged property. Since California is a community property state, divorce courts will divide marital assets in order for each spouse to receive 50 percent. Even if the settlement doesn’t come until after the divorce is finalized, as long as the cause of action for the settlement happened when the couple was still married.
However, California Family Code § 2603(b) states that “community estate personal injury damages” are entitled to the injured spouse. In regard to code mentioned before, this section means that the injured spouse receives the personal injury settlement while the non-injured spouse receives assets from the community property estate. But if the personal injury settlement is the only asset the couple owns, then the non-injured spouse may not receive anything in return.
By contrast, California Family Code § 781(a) states if the injury happened before the marriage, after the couple started separately, or after getting divorced, then the non-injured spouse would not receive any of the personal injury settlement. Nevertheless, if community property was spent on the injured spouse’s expenses, the non-injured spouse should receive reimbursement.
In order to protect your personal injury award from being subject to property division in a divorce, you must discuss your case with your personal injury lawyer, who can also bring in a family law expert to provide additional advice. Your attorney can also request that your settlement includes details of which amounts cover which types of damages.
Lastly, deposit your settlement into a separate bank account. Depositing your settlement into an account you share with your spouse will make it hard to trace where the money goes from there. It is possible that a personal injury award in a shared account can be used to pay for shared marital assets.