Puja Sachdev | August 4, 2021 | Divorce
A car accident during a divorce can complicate the legal proceeding. Under California law, a spouse cannot be held personally liable for injuries or damages for a car accident that was not their fault. The spouse is only liable if they would have been liable had the marriage not existed.
However, California law will hold a spouse responsible for their spouse’s car accident in some situations.
A spouse’s interest in “community property” could be used to satisfy a judgment for damages for a car crash caused by the other spouse. In these instances, the spouse who caused the accident must have been doing something to benefit both spouses at the time of the collision. For example, the spouse who caused the car crash may have been picking up dinner for the family when the accident occurred.
If the spouse’s actions were for the benefit of both spouses, community property or shared assets are used to pay damages. Then, any remaining amount owed to the accident victim would be paid from the at-fault spouse’s separate property.
However, if the spouse’s purpose for driving did not benefit both spouses, the spouse’s separate property is used to pay damages caused by the car wreck. Then, any remaining amount would come from the couple’s community property.
Community Property and Car Accidents in San Diego, CA
A car accident victim could seek compensation from community property — even if you are in the middle of a divorce action. If the court decides that your spouse was driving for the reason that benefits both of you, you could lose substantial income and assets.
Most assets acquired during the marriage are considered community property, including bank accounts, income, real estate, and household goods. Therefore, each spouse has equal ownership rights in that property.
For a personal injury judgment, the court could issue orders to:
- Garnish wages;
- Freeze bank accounts;
- Seize property; or,
- Secure assets to pay for a personal injury settlement.
You may not have been in the vehicle or had any responsibility for the cause of the collision. However, your share of community property could be used to satisfy the debt created by a car accident without your consent.
Can You Protect Your Property If Your Spouse Causes a San Diego Car Accident?
There are ways to protect your assets if your spouse was involved in a car accident.
First, your separate property is not subject to a personal injury judgment for a car accident that was not your fault. Therefore, property that you acquired before marriage that you have maintained as separate property is safe. Also, inheritances received during the marriage that you keep separate from community property should not be subject to a car accident claim.
Second, you could convert community property into a separate property to protect it from a personal injury judgment. However, changing the classification of community property to separate property requires the consent of both spouses.
The spouses must enter a written marital settlement agreement or post-nuptial agreement to convert community property into separate property. The agreement transfers joint ownership of assets to the spouse who was not involved in the accident. The spouse who caused the car accident would not have any ownership rights in the property included in the agreement.
Third, the spouses could maintain separate bank accounts and financial accounts. Even though joint accounts might make managing finances easier for a couple, joint accounts expose both spouses to liability for car accidents caused by one spouse.
By maintaining separate accounts, you can protect some of your money and assets from being used to pay a personal injury judgment for a car wreck that was not your fault. It might make paying joint debts and expenses more challenging, but the protection from liability could be well worth the trouble of dealing with separate accounts.
Seeking Legal Advice Before Making Any Decisions
Car accident cases can be complicated. When the couple is going through a divorce, allegations of fault and liability can become even more complicated. Before taking any steps to resolve the car accident case or convert community property to separate property, it is wise to seek legal advice from an experienced car accident lawyer in San Diego.
Hiring a lawyer can help minimize your liability in several ways. A lawyer investigates allegations of contributory negligence. Under California law, liability for damages is assigned based on fault. Therefore, if an accident victim is partially to blame for the cause of the accident, the spouse may not be liable for all damages.
Furthermore, converting community property to separate property impacts future ownership rights. Therefore, you want to ensure that you are doing what is in your best interests now and in the future.