Who “Owns” Money Damages Recovered by One Spouse During the Marriage?

Who “Owns” Money Damages Recovered by One Spouse During the Marriage?

Money damages received by a spouse as compensation for a personal injury that occurred during the marriage are owned by both parties. The money is marital property. As with most things that come up in the dissolution of a marriage, however, there are additional details to be considered.

While California Family Code § 780 provides that damages received for an injury that occurred during marriage are marital property, Section 781 states that if the injury occurred after entry of a final divorce decree or after separation of the parties, the money damages  are the separate property of the injured party. It is important to recognize, however, that whether a couple is considered legally separated can be complicated. If there is a formal separation approved by the court, there is no question. If not, the court considers various factors, including living arrangements, comingling of funds, and other indications of whether the couple otherwise functioned as if they were married.

If a couple dissolves a marriage during which one of the parties received money damages, California Family Code § 2603 provides for the allocation of those funds to the spouse who received them. But that is assuming the funds can be distinguished from other marital funds and have not been comingled. If, for example, the money was set aside in an investment account in the injured party’s name, that money, although marital property during the marriage, would be allocated to the injured spouse at the time of dissolution.

If the money damages were comingled with other marital funds, then they may be considered marital property at the time of dissolution. Where comingling is concerned, money damages are treated essentially the same as property owned by a spouse before the marriage. If the owning spouse allows the money or property to be comingled with other marital property, it is treated as part of the marital estate at the time of dissolution.

Once again, though, there are more details. Section 2603 also authorizes the court to allocate some of those funds to the non-injured spouse “after taking into account the economic condition and needs of each party, the time that has elapsed since the recovery[,] . . . and all other facts of the case.” If the court makes such an allocation, however, no more than one-half of the funds may be so allocated.

Division of the marital estate at the time a marriage is dissolved can be highly contentious and complicated. While state law provides the framework for issues such as money damages for personal injury, it also gives the courts broad discretion to achieve a fair outcome for both parties. If you are facing a divorce proceeding, especially one that involves a complicated estate, you should consult with an experienced California lawyer. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are well-versed in difficult divorce proceedings. Call today to see how we can help you: (415) 293-8314.

What Is the Effect of Substance Abuse in California Divorces?

What Is the Effect of Substance Abuse in California Divorces?
California is a no-fault divorce state, but that does not mean that extenuating circumstances existing in a marriage cannot be taken into consideration by courts. Substance abuse and alcoholism are factors that can affect custody and visitation rights, as well as division of marital assets, and even alimony. A party to a divorce who suffers from substance abuse or alcoholism is at a significant disadvantage in the proceeding.


The most common effect of a party’s substance abuse problem is an adverse effect on child custody and visitation rights. Courts are bound by law to make such decisions in the best interest of the child, which I discuss in detail in an earlier blog.


When one or both of the parties are known to be substance abusers, custody and visitation must be structured to mitigate possible negative consequences to the child. A court even has the power to order periodic testing to ensure that a parent complies with an order to remain drug-free.


In rare cases, a court may find that one spouse’s substance-induced behavior during marriage depleted marital assets. Excessive use of marital funds to support an addiction, for example, could result in that party’s share of property distribution being reduced. The same analysis may be applied to the granting of alimony. If the addicted spouse has depleted marital assets to support the addiction, additional alimony could be awarded. More often, parties with such problems will settle for less favorable terms than the law may allow in order to avoid the notoriety a court proceeding might bring.


Establishment of a party’s substance abuse problem by the court is necessary before it can be considered for the mentioned purposes. One party may raise the issue, or it might become known to the court in other ways. Family members, representatives of the state Department of Social Services, or other interested parties might inform the court of a potential addiction or abuse. When the latter occurs, it is normally in relation to custody and visitation determinations.


Once the issue is raised, the court may order an evaluation or investigation to determine the validity of the report. This could involve consideration of existing records of substance abuse or the appointment of an investigator to determine the validity of the report and its potential effect on custody and visitation.


The final impact on custody and visitation orders varies, depending on the extent of the problem. In very extreme circumstances, a parent could be denied any share of custody or even visitation, or the court could order limited and/or supervised visitation. The court has wide discretion in determining what is in the best interest of the child.


The health and well-being of your children are important not only to you, but to the State of California. If your partner has a substance abuse or addiction issue, you need an attorney to fight for you and your children. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in divorce, child custody, and child support matters. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.