Are Personal Injury Settlements Divided During a Divorce?
Going through a divorce after you have filed a personal injury claim can feel overwhelming, and it is normal to feel concerned about how the two cases may overlap. You may have worked very hard to recover compensation for your injuries and get your medical bills covered. You may even have a fair amount of money left over from the settlement, but now, you may be worried about whether your ex can claim a portion of it in your divorce.
In Pennsylvania, any money, property, or assets you acquired after you get married and before your date of separation are legally considered marital assets. Because of this, your claim may be put in jeopardy depending on how it is classified under the law.
When Did Your Settlement “Accrue?”
Plaintiffs have up to two years from the date of an injury to file a claim with a negligent party’s insurance company, whether after a car accident, dog bite, or slip-and-fall. During that period of time, it is not uncommon for plaintiffs to file for divorce or separate from their spouses.
If these two cases overlap, it is possible for your settlement to be divided during a divorce. When your personal injury claim began “accruing” and when you legally separated from your spouse will heavily impact how your settlement is treated when you get divorced.
Accruing means that you were eligible to file a claim, meaning you accumulated damages such as medical bills, lost wages, or other costs due to an accident. If your claim accrued during your marriage, then it can be considered a marital asset, even if you did not receive a settlement until after your divorce is final. But, if your accident occurred before your marriage, then any settlement you received for it is considered a separate asset so long as you did not mix it with your marriage funds, meaning you did not add it to your joint bank account.
Pennsylvania courts also pay close attention to the date of separation, or the point at which you and your ex stopped living together as a married couple. It is possible for you and your ex to disagree on this date, but the courts typically take into account:
- When you stopped living together
- When you stopped being intimate
- When you stopped attending events or family gatherings together
- When you stopped working together as a couple or family unit
The date of separation determines when newly acquired property stops being a marital asset and starts being a separate asset, meaning you have sole ownership over new acquisitions. If your accident occurred after the date of separation, then any settlement you receive from it is considered your own property.
What Part of My Settlement Can My Ex Claim?
In a Pennsylvania divorce, marital assets are distributed through a process called equitable distribution, which attempts to divide a household based on what is “fair” for both parties. If your injury settlement is subject to property division, then your spouse may be able to receive a portion of it depending on what type of damages you received.
For example, if you received a workers’ compensation to cover the medical bills, then those bills need to be divided in your divorce. However, you and your ex may agree to have your settlement cover those bills so that neither of you is liable for the leftover debt. In turn, if you received compensation for lost wages, those wages are considered marital income and can be divided between you two.
The specifics of how your settlement will be divided will vary depending on your situation, and can come down to how you negotiate with your ex and their attorney. Your best option is to speak to an experienced and knowledgeable Montgomery County family law attorney. At the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., our lead attorney can use her more than 25 years of experience to negotiate on your behalf. To discuss your case in a free consultation, call us at (610) 645-0100.