Have you ever heard the expression that bad luck comes in threes. Whether that’s true or not, I’ve seen a number of people who go through a divorce while an injury claim is pending. At that time the value of the injury claim is uncertain and it may not be known whether anything will be recovered. So when dividing up a couple’s property, what will Montana courts do?
Unfortunately, that’s not a question that the Montana Supreme Court has answered very well. The best we have is In re Marriage of Copp, a case from 2003 where the ex-husband appealed because the Court had divided his future personal injury award in half. The Court ruled that it was not an abuse of discretion for the Court to award the wife half of the award because there had been no testimony at trial to indicate that the husband objected to that division, and there had been no testimony as to what the injury award was for.
Copp seems to indicate that certain parts of a personal injury award would be subject to division in marriage, and certain parts would not. This makes sense when you think about the general rules for division of property in Montana. For example, an injury victim is often awarded money for lost future earnings. Since those earnings would come in after the divorce, it makes sense that the ex-wife wouldn’t necessarily share in those. But some victims are also awarded damages for lost earnings at the time of the accident (missed work). That’s money that would have gone into the marital pot and should be divided.
Like so many things in the law, the answer to this question is probably: it depends. The best way to know about your specific situation is to schedule an appointment with a divorce lawyer who can explain the law and analyze what’s going on for you. If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with me to discuss your case, please call (406) 752-6373 today.
If you’re interested in learning more about Personal Injury law in Montana, my partner Paul Sullivan writes the Montana Injury Law Blog where he discusses issues like this and much more.