People get married — and stay married — for financial reasons. Love? Sure. But many people are in love with mountains of cash. But let’s say your soon-to-be ex-spouse was hiding one gigantic facet of the divorce they requested only weeks ago: the huge settlement they expect to win from a personal injury lawsuit. Your divorce decree will be made one week before the settlement. Are you entitled to any of the damages?
The short answer is no.
If the timeline were different — for example, if the divorce decree were expected after the settlement win — then you might have a fair claim to your share of the winnings. But should you take it? More on that later.
The first thing you need to know is that even a personal injury settlement can be considered marital property. This is because partners generally use these funds together until a divorce occurs. Who owns what is partially determined by whose name is on the papers. For example, if your spouse used those funds to buy a house — that’s in your name — then you won’t be denied your share.
The biggest reason to avoid claiming the personal injury settlement as joint property is simple, and it depends on whether or not you expect to be paid alimony rather than have to pay it yourself. For the sake of argument, let’s say your ex-spouse will run away with the lion’s share of the marital assets — but not the kids. You might be granted both alimony and child support, which will usually be paid in monthly installments.
But wouldn’t you prefer to receive the cash in one lump payment? Because that’s generally how personal injury settlements are paid out. And if your ex-spouse has that much money lying around straight away after the divorce, a judge might be more than willing to give you a lump sum alimony deal. Should you ask? It depends on your financial situation and what you want. Some people don’t need the lump sum payment but would prefer to torment their former loved ones until the end of time for breaking those vows.
Family legal organizations like the Matteucci Family Law Firm might advise clients to consider this decision carefully, because it can’t be unmade. Judicial rulings are final. Keep in mind that whether or not the settlement fund is determined to be marital property versus separate property is dependent on state law more than anything else, which is why you will want a qualified attorney to help you make that decision.
Timing matters where property is concerned. Is your spouse trying to speed a divorce along to reduce the chance of you receiving your fair share of a settlement? Try talking to your attorney, who might have a few ideas how to fend off the wolves before you make any big decisions on your own.