California is a community property state, meaning that property acquired during the marriage is generally community property subject to equal division in divorce. (Of course, some property acquired during the marriage isn’t community property, such as inheritances or gifts, but those are exceptions to the general rule). Accordingly, many forms of damages from lawsuits are subject to 50/50 division in divorce, but one exception to 50/50 division is community property personal injury damages
50/50 Community Property Division
Before we address the personal injury exception to 50/50 community property division in divorce, let’s review how other damages in personal injury lawsuits are divided. First, property damage is a common claim in automobile accident lawsuits. Many Sacramento car accident lawyers pursue compensation for property damage from negligent drivers in addition to claims for personal injury. Assuming the property damage stemmed from a damaged vehicle acquired during the marriage, subsequent compensation for the property damage claim would be classified as community property for purposes of property division in divorce. Likewise, claims for lost income due to injury in a personal injury lawsuit may be classified as community property; after all, wages earned during the marriage are community property. In summary, some claims in a personal injury lawsuit may seek compensation for damages other than the personal injury itself, and thus may be subject to 50/50 division in divorce.
Community Estate Personal Injury Damages Exception
The Family Code may lead one to think that personal injury damages are divided equally in a divorce. Family Code Section 780 states:
money and other property received or to be received by a married person in satisfaction of a judgment for damages for personal injuries, or pursuant to an agreement for the settlement or compromise of a claim for such damages, is community property if the cause of action for the damages arose during the marriage.Family Code 780
While the statute does include personal injury damages as community property, Family Code Section 2603(b) specifically excludes “community property personal injury damages” from equal division in divorce. Instead, the section requires community property personal injury damages to be awarded to the injured spouse unless the interests of justice require a different division, but in no event may the injured spouse receive less than one-half of the damages.
Community estate personal injury damages shall be assigned to the party who suffered the injuries unless the court, after taking into account the economic condition and needs of each party, the time that has elapsed since the recovery of the damages or the accrual of the cause of action, and all other facts of the case, determines that the interests of justice require another disposition. In such a case, the community estate personal injury damages shall be assigned to the respective parties in such proportions as the court determines to be just, except that at least one-half of the damages shall be assigned to the party who suffered the injuries.Family Code 2603(b)
One way that “community estate personal injury damages” can lose their special status excluding them from equal division in divorce is if they’re commingled with community property such that the source of the funds cannot be traced. In that event, the commingled damages would be classified as community property subject to regular 50/50 division in divorce.
Note – this website and it’s contents contain general information; not legal advice. Always seek legal advice from a California attorney for your California family law issue.