Be careful with personal injury claims at divorce

If you’ve been injured recently, and have filed (or are thinking of filing) a personal injury lawsuit – but you have also filed (or are thinking of filing) for divorce – it’s extremely important to coordinate the two types of claims.

That’s because the way the personal injury lawsuit is handled could have a big effect on how much of the proceeds you’ll have to share with your spouse in the divorce proceedings.

At a minimum, you should be sure to tell your personal injury lawyer all about the divorce, and tell your divorce lawyer all about the personal injury claim.

The rules differ a great deal from state to state. For instance, in some states, it makes a big difference whether you were injured before the divorce was filed, or while it was pending, or after it became final. In others, it makes a difference during which of those periods the lawsuit was filed or settled.

A personal injury award often consists of multiple components, and those individual components can be treated very differently in a divorce. For instance, an award can include payments for:

  • Your personal pain and suffering as a result of the injury,
  • Your lost wages, if you missed time at work,
  • Your medical expenses,
  • Your spouse’s losses as a result of your injury, and
  • Property damage (such as if your car was totaled in an auto accident).

As an example, a court might decide that your pain and suffering is personal to you, but the car was marital property if it was jointly owned, and your lost wages and medical expenses should be divided as though they were ordinary wages and bills that came in during the marriage.

You might be able to get a better net result if you coordinate the filing or settling of the lawsuit with the timing of the divorce. You might also be able to settle the lawsuit more favorably by allocating more of the proceeds to items that are less likely to have to be shared with your spouse.