Until Death Do You Part

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What children’s expenses are covered by child support?”


When you make the decision to divorce, you might understandably believe that what once was a lifetime connection to your former spouse gets severed. Though it’s true the nature of your relationship will change in many ways, some official and legal, some not so much, it doesn’t always mean that you’re able to neatly part ways. In some cases, when a former spouse dies you might find yourself embroiled in issues you thought were safely in the past.


Graveyard-Charlotte-Divorce-Lawyer-Mecklenburg-Family-Attorney-300x201The first issue worth discussing as it relates to death and divorce is what can happen to debts and obligations owed by your former spouse. In almost every case, when two people divorce they take time to divide up jointly held assets and debts. This division of marital property is typically formalized in the divorce settlement agreement. This document lays out who walks away with what in the divorce and whose responsibility it is to pay the remaining debts. Though such decrees are legally binding, it’s crucial to understand that they are only legally binding on the parties to the divorce. When you divorce and the judge makes everything official, the promises included in the decree are binding, but only for those who participated in the proceedings.


If, down the road, there becomes an argument between you and your wife about who pays the credit card and the decree says that your wife is responsible for the credit card, the judge will be happy to enforce those obligations on the proper party. However, if there is a dispute down the road involving the credit card company because your wife has passed away and the credit card remains unpaid, the divorce decree won’t do much good. The creditors were not party to the divorce and their rights remain unmodified. That means if you and your former spouse agreed to be responsible for the debt, if your spouse dies, regardless of how these things were divided in the divorce settlement agreement, you will be held legally responsible. This unfortunate reality is why many people insist on having larger debts reestablished in only one party’s name, for instance, paying off credit cards and rolling the debt onto a new card in only the responsible spouse’s name or refinancing a mortgage to release the other spouse from the debt.


The next thing worth discussing is how death can impact alimony payments. If you rely on alimony it can be financially devastating if the person responsible for those payments dies. The reason is that alimony payments are generally seen as a debt that ends when the payor passes away. Though that’s the general rule, it isn’t always true. A recipient can make a claim against the person’s estate asking to be compensated. This is most likely to be successful in cases where one party will be unable to find work of any kind or where prior agreements between the parties indicated a desire to provide support for the recipient’s lifetime.


The same can be true of child support payments, which often disappear upon the responsible party’s death. Though this isn’t good news for those who rely on such support, a well-prepared divorce can try and anticipate such sad eventualities. One way of doing this is to take out a life insurance policy in the names of the children for the amount of child support owed. The payor can gradually reduce the amount of life insurance as the years pass by and the total debt owed decreases.


If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.




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