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If I am Awarded Alimony or Child Support, What Happens if my Ex-spouse Dies?

By Jamie Berger, Esq.

Financial support is often an important point in divorce proceedings. Alimony and child support are both designed, in different ways, to provide a stable home, and many families count on this financial support to provide education, food, and housing for themselves and their children. Because it is such an important part of a divorce settlement, it’s essential that both parties understand the parameters around alimony and child support payments, including what happens when an ex-spouse passes away.

In the event that your ex-partner dies during a divorce proceeding or afterward, both alimony and child support are immediately affected. If a family wants to protect against one partner’s death during a divorce proceeding, it’s vital to consider this aim during alimony and child support negotiations. 

What happens if there are no safeguards in place and my ex-partner dies?

If your ex-spouse passes away without sufficient safeguards, then any alimony or child-support payments would cease at some point following their death, depending on whether they had paid into Probation or other financial support mechanisms. Alimony and child support are determined based on a partner’s capacity to provide financial support—and in the event of their death, they would no longer be able to support you. 

That said, there are ways to address this possibility during the divorce settlement to ensure that the other party and any children can receive some sort of financial support from the estate of the deceased. 

What if my ex-spouse owed child support or alimony arrears at the time of their death?

If an individual owes back payments for child support or alimony at the time of their death, those arrears are not automatically waived or nullified. Instead, any arrears owed to their ex-spouse may be recovered from their estate or through other security measures which were set up during the divorce process and contained within the parties’ Settlement Agreement or Judgment of Divorce. 

How to protect an alimony obligation if your ex-spouse dies

Typically, if your former partner dies, without documentation or precautions in place to the contrary, any alimony obligation on their part would cease. But there are protections that can be put in place to honor an alimony obligation through a document (essentially a contract) called a Marital Settlement Agreement, or MSA. Through an MSA, a person can allocate life insurance policy beneficiaries, including an ex-spouse. 

Divorcing parties typically negotiate to ensure that if one owes the other alimony as part of a divorce settlement, a life insurance policy is maintained by the paying spouse. All or a portion of the policy is allocated to the receiving spouse for the duration of the alimony obligation. 

While this is not mandatory, spouses usually agree to add life insurance policies as security for alimony obligations. This will allow you to receive financial support in the form of a life insurance payout following their death. In this case, you would no longer receive ongoing or direct payments, but a lump sum payment so your future alimony obligation would be considered secured. 

How to protect child support if an ex-spouse dies

With respect to child support, you can work with a family law attorney to create a similar life insurance mechanism to protect your child’s financial needs if your ex-partner passes away. Both parties, where the parents have ongoing support obligations, including the payment of college education, add a life insurance component to the Marital Settlement Agreement so that if either parent dies, children are named as life insurance beneficiaries. 

As a result, children typically receive lump sum payouts, similar to those in alimony, as support for ongoing financial needs, including college costs and health insurance. In the case where the beneficiaries are minors, the surviving parent, or another individual, can be named as a trustee of a trust, or other financial account managed on their behalves. 

Is life insurance legally required for a New Jersey divorce settlement?

Life insurance requirements in divorce settlements vary state by state. In New Jersey, if a party is obligated to pay child support or alimony, they may need to keep a life insurance policy large enough to cover a certain amount of payments depending on a number of factors. 

Life insurance policies may help families avoid settling child support and alimony obligations through the deceased’s estate. How life insurance policies are handled depends on the unique situation of each family, but courts may require the policy to name the supported party or other parent as the owner of the policy to safeguard against defaulting on payments. 

An experienced divorce attorney can help you find the right course for your family moving forward so that in the event of an ex-partner’s death, your family and children are protected. 

If my partner named me as a beneficiary for their life insurance policy during marriage, does that extend past a divorce settlement?

If your former partner dies, the outcome of a life insurance policy that predated a divorce settlement can vary from state to state, even if they owe alimony or child support. 

Because this is often decided on a case-by-case basis, it can be risky for families to rely on a pre-existing policy. Instead, working with a family law attorney, and if necessary, a trust and estates attorney, to address these concerns as part of an MSA can help you identify a path forward to ensure that your family’s financial security is not left up to chance.  

Plan for the future with confidence

Divorce is a significant transition for any family, and it’s important to plan ahead for a stable future, no matter what happens. An experienced alimony and child support attorney can help you identify your long-term needs, weigh different scenarios, and navigate a divorce settlement with confidence. 

Contact our team to coordinate your strategic planning session today.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.