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Are Personal Injury Awards Marital Property in a RI Divorce?

In 1990, the Rhode Island Supreme Court in Kirk v Kirk decided that awards for Pain and Suffering in a Rhode Island Divorce were not marital propertyy subject to Equitable Division. The RI Supreme Court determined that Awards for Pain and Suffering, Future Lost Wages, Future Loss of Earning Capacity and Future Medical Expenses are separate property and not subject to equitable division in RI.

Awards of Payments that compensate a spouse for past lost wages and past medical bills are marital property subject to Equitable Division in a Rhode Island Divorce. Worker’s Compensation claims as a result of Disfigurement are not marital property in Rhode Island.

“After our analysis of the differing law of other jurisdictions that have addressed this issue directly, we are persuaded that the purpose of the personal-injury recovery determines whether it is marital property subject to distribution under § 15-5-16.1. A personal-injury settlement constitutes various components of recovery. A settlement represents compensation from a tortfeasor for losses sustained by the injured spouse including pain and suffering, past loss of wages, future loss of wages, past uninsured medical expenses, and future medical expenses. Those components of the personal-injury settlement that replace property acquired or property that would have been acquired during the marriage are marital property under § 15-5-16.1.”

Pain and Suffering Awards Are Not Marital property:

“We find that a pain-and-suffering award of an injured spouse is compensation for or replacement of personal property, that spouse’s good health, which was acquired before the marriage. Therefore, that portion of a personal-injury settlement that is intended to compensate an injured spouse for his or her pain and suffering is nonmarital property, not subject to equitable distribution under § 15-5-16.1.” Kirk v Kirk.

Past Lost Wages and Past Medical Expenses are Marital Property Subject to Equitable Division in a RI Divorce:

We find, however, that that portion of the personal injury settlement compensating for past loss of wages and past uninsured medical expenses incurred during the marriage, losses that have depleted funds of the marital estate, are marital property subject to equitable distribution under § 15-5-16.1.

Awards for Future Lost Wages and Future Medical expenses are Separate Property under RI Law.

“We find that that portion of the personal-injury settlement that compensates for future losses, losses incurred after entry of a final divorce, including future loss of wages, future medical expenses, and future loss of earning capacity, are separate personal property of the injured spouse, not subject to equitable distribution under § 15-5-16.1.”….Accordingly payments that compensate for past loss of wages and past medical expenses incurred during the marriage are marital property subject to equitable distribution under § 15-5-16.1.

Worker’s Compensation Disfigurement Awards:

Those payments that compensate for disfigurement and/or loss of use of a limb and those payments that replace lost future wages and future medical expenses are separate personal property of the injured spouse, not subject to equitable distribution under § 15-5-16.1. Future wages and future medical expenses are losses incurred after entry of a final divorce. This analysis applies both to one-time lump-sum payments and to regular weekly payments. Consistent with our analysis of personal-injury settlements, only that portion of the injured spouse’s one-time lump-sum payment or weekly payment that replaces marital property is subject to equitable distribution under § 15-5-16.1

SSI and SSDI Benefits are Not Marital Property Subject to Equitable Divsion in a Rhode Island Divorce.

“In enacting these statutes, Congress has clearly stated that Social Security benefits are not to be treated by State courts as property. Sherry v. Sherry, 108 Idaho 645, 650, 701 P.2d 265, 270 (1985) (citing Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U.S. 603, 80 S.Ct. 1367, 4 L.Ed.2d 1435 (1960)); Olson v. Olson, 445 N.W.2d 1, 8 (N.D. 1989) (citing In re Marriage of Nizenkoff, 65 Cal. App.3d 136, 135 Cal. Rptr. 189 (1976)). Instead Social Security benefits are intended to protect the Social Security beneficiary and those dependent upon him or her from the claims of creditors. Sharlot v. Sharlot, 110 A.D.2d 299, 300, 494 N.Y.S.2d 238, 239 (1985). When a former spouse attempts to attach these benefits, then the former spouse becomes more like a creditor than a dependent. Therefore, these Social Security benefits may be reached by a former spouse for alimony or child support but not for property division.” Kirk v. Kirk

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

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