Neither the world of personal injury law nor the world matrimonial law are usually fun for a person to have to deal with, whether the person is a plaintiff or defendant, and every so often there is a double whammy of a person or his or her spouse being involved in a personal injury suit followed shortly thereafter by a divorce proceeding. Sometimes the two might be related (e.g. if one spouse wrongfully injured the other, leading to divorce proceedings), or they may have nothing to do with one another, but there are a couple things to keep in mind when there is an outstanding or pending personal injury judgment at the same time that you are working through the divorce process.
When One Spouse Injures the Other Spouse
If your spouse injured you and you successfully sued for your injuries (obtaining a settlement or verdict), then the injuring spouse must use his or her “separate property” to satisfy his or her liability to you before using any “community property.” This means that spouse must use any available property he or she had before entering the marriage to pay what is owed to you first before using any funds earned or acquired during the marriage, unless you have a written consent with the spouse allowing for a different option.
When One Spouse Injures a Third Party
If the spouse injured a third party and owes a judgment for the injuries, then the court will look to whether the injury occurred while the spouse was performing an act “for the benefit of the community,” or, in other words, the benefit of the marriage. If so, then community property funds will be used to pay the judgment, but, if not, the liable spouse must use his or her separate funds first.
To give an example, if your husband was driving home from the grocery store with food for the family when he negligently crashed into a pedestrian, then this may well be considered an activity on behalf of the community, and thus community property (of which you have a 50% interest) can be used to pay the judgment. But if your husband was out late drinking at a bar for his own enjoyment while you stayed home with the kids and he punched another patron, causing injury, then this would likely be considered an activity not benefitting the community and thus he will have to use his separate property first to satisfy a judgment owed to the injured victim.
Get Answers to Your Legal Questions on California Divorces
To schedule a consultation to discuss any issues related to spousal support in a California divorce or any other questions or concerns you have about the California divorce process, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today.