How does a spouse’s death affect a divorce proceeding?

If a spouse dies during divorce, the legal process takes a different turn. While many couples have estate planning documents in place to deal with death, other couples might not. Even so, decisions about how the divorce court would divide communal property is no longer a concern. This is due to the fact that a spouse’s death ends the divorce proceeding in Texas.

A Recent Challenge to Death During Divorce Regarding Property Rights

In 2022 the Texas Appellate Court in Hood County Texas rendered a decision in the case Patricia June Hearn v. David Lee Hearn. David Lee Hearn died prior to the divorce decree being finalized. Consequently, the lower court dismissed the divorce case based on Texas law. Patricia June Hearn appealed and requested that David’s son and daughter, offspring and heirs from a previous marriage, represent David in the divorce case. She wanted the divorce court to address property division. In the appeal, her attorney argued that there was no Texas statute that barred property division when a spouse died. While this was true, ample case law exists.  Case law has determined that a pending divorce ends upon the death of a spouse. Based on such case law, the appellate judge ruled there was no basis to continue the divorce.

The Divorce Case Would Become an Estate Law Matter

In the event that one spouse dies before a divorce case becomes final, property division determination would become an estate litigation issue.

If the deceased spouse had a will or trust, then property would pass through terms established by the will or trust. Or, if the spouse died without a will or trust, intestate succession would apply. Various civil legal issues survive the death of a spouse, such as a personal injury case. However, divorce does not survive a spouse’s death.

The Law Office of Lindsey J. Wilson provides legal representation for clients in cases involving family law, custody and support, divorce, property division and modifications and enforcement.