Are My Assets in Danger if Spouse Causes Accident During Divorce?
When you’re married, your finances are entwined. When your spouse acquires property or income, that becomes your property. When your spouse incurs debts, those debts are your debts. What happens, however, when debts or other liabilities arise after a divorce has been filed? Are you on the hook for your spouse’s liabilities until the divorce is finalized, or are you free and clear once the case is filed? Continue reading to learn about how liabilities that arise during divorce are treated in New Jersey, and if you have questions about a future or pending divorce, call a knowledgeable New Jersey divorce and property division attorney for help.
Separate vs. Marital Property
When you divorce in New Jersey, your marital property is subject to equitable distribution. Marital property includes anything that was acquired during the pendency of the marriage, with a few narrowly-defined exceptions (inheritance, gifts to one spouse, property kept separate by premarital agreement). Upon divorce, if the parties cannot come to agreement on the distribution of marital assets, the court will distribute the assets according to the principles of equity and fairness (not necessarily an even split).
Separate property, however, is not subject to division in divorce. Your separate property, meaning any property you already possessed before the marriage, is entirely your own. Your spouse has no legal right to your separate property, nor does anyone who has a claim against your spouse. If your spouse gets into a car accident during the divorce proceedings, your separate property is not at risk for attachment or collection.
This analysis assumes you played no part in the car accident–if you were also personally at fault, then your property could be at stake as well. Additionally, if you and your spouse hold joint title to the car driven during the accident, there’s a risk you could be held liable.
Marital Property is at Risk During Divorce
Marital property, on the other hand, is jointly owned by a married couple until there has been a legal separation. Income, wages, retirement benefits, bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, and personal belongings are all subject to equitable division upon divorce. Both parties have an ownership interest in the marital property until a court orders who gets what and how.
If your spouse causes a car crash before you are divorced, even if you are in the middle of a divorce case, then your marital property could be at risk. If the personal injury court determines that your spouse is at fault and that they must liquidate assets in order to compensate the accident victim, any marital assets (as well as your spouse’s separate property) are fair game. Although your interest in the property should be protected, your spouse’s will not be, meaning that the property could be liquidated to repay what your spouse owes.
A knowledgeable New Jersey divorce attorney can help you understand the extent of your liability should your spouse incur debts during a divorce, as well as steps you can take to protect your assets from collection.
Call Our Experienced New Jersey Divorce and Property Division Law Firm Today for Advice and Assistance
If you’re dealing with the division of assets and debts in a New Jersey divorce, or if you have other New Jersey family law issues, contact the seasoned and passionate Union family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation.