What Happens When A Spouse Dies In The Middle Of A Divorce?

August 17, 2022

No one ever expects their spouse to die during a divorce, but it happens more often than you might think. If your spouse dies before you finalize your divorce, what happens to the proceedings? How does it affect your property rights and child custody arrangements? These are questions you may want answers to so that you can prepare yourself and your family for the possibility. Read on to learn more about what happens when a spouse dies in the middle of a divorce.

What Happens to Divorce Proceedings When a Spouse Dies?

The simple answer to this question is that they stop. It takes two people to get divorced, so if one person dies, the divorce proceedings come to an end. Even if you had negotiated some terms of the divorce and were close to finalizing it, the death of a spouse nullifies all of that. Until a judge officially signs off on the divorce and you’re issued with a Notice of Entry Judgment, it isn’t finalized, and if one spouse dies, there is no divorce. That means you’re a widow or widower and not a divorcee.

How Does the Death of a Spouse in the Course of a Divorce Affect Other Arrangements?

You may want to know how the death of a spouse affects things like child custody and property allocation. Let’s dig deeper into each of these topics.

  • Child Custody: If you and your spouse had minor children together, then child custody would have been one of the key issues you were dealing with in your divorce. If your spouse dies before the divorce is finalized, you assume both physical and legal custody of the kids. However, grandparents can file for visitation or even custody if they feel it’s in the best interests of the children.
  • Property Allocation: When it comes to property allocation, the remaining spouse assumes ownership of all property that was jointly owned by the couple. This includes the family home, cars, bank accounts, investments, and any other property that is in both spouses’ names. If the property was owned solely by one spouse, then that spouse’s last will or testament will determine what happens to it.
  • Marital Debts: Marital debts are another issue that needs to be dealt with when a spouse dies during a divorce. If the debts were in both spouses’ names, then the surviving spouse is responsible for paying them off. If the debt was in only one spouse’s name, then the estate of that spouse is responsible for paying it off.
  • Child Support: If you were the one receiving child support payments, then you may be wondering what happens to that when your spouse dies. The answer is that the child support payments stop because the obligation to pay them dies with the spouse. However, if your spouse dies and leaves behind a life insurance policy, you may be able to collect on that policy to make up for the lost child support payments.

Can I Sue for Wrongful Death If My Spouse Dies During Our Divorce?

If your spouse dies because of someone else’s negligence, you can sue for wrongful death. For example, if your spouse is killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you can sue the drunk driver for wrongful death. However, if the proceedings had already been finalized, you would not be able to sue for wrongful death because you would no longer be considered the spouse. Your kids would be able to sue for wrongful death, but you would not.

These are just some of the things you need to know about what happens when a spouse dies during a divorce. It’s a difficult and emotional situation to deal with, but hopefully, this information has helped to give you some clarity. A qualified divorce attorney can provide you with more information and help you navigate this difficult time.

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Law Offices of Granoff & Kessler