One of the messy tasks in a divorce is working through life insurance, and it’s frequently forgotten.
Investopedia’s article, “How Life Insurance Works in a Divorce,” explains that addressing life insurance is a critical issue in the divorce process, especially for divorcing couples with children. Maintaining life insurance protects the financial interests of both parties and their dependent children. This involves making the necessary beneficiary changes, accounting for the cash value in whole or universal life policies, protecting child support and alimony income, and—most importantly—making certain that any children involved are financially protected.
Most married couples with life insurance list their spouse as the primary beneficiary. Life insurance protects a family from financial devastation, if you die and your income is lost. For a married person, naming your spouse as your beneficiary makes certain that he or she can continue to pay the mortgage, put food on the table, and possibly bring up the children without your income. Life insurance is especially critical if you provide the majority of the income.
In a divorce, especially an acrimonious one, odds are good that you’ll no longer want your ex-spouse profiting from your death. If there are no children involved, most life insurance policies let you change the beneficiary at any time.
Some life insurance policies, such as many whole life and universal life policies, accumulate cash value over time. Each month when you make your premium payment, some of the money is deposited into a fund that grows with interest. This is the policy’s cash value, and it’s your money. Any time while the policy is active, you can forgo the death benefit and take the cash value. This is called “cashing out” your life insurance policy.
Since the cash value from a life insurance policy is part of your net worth, you should list the policy, including its cash value, as a marital asset to be divided. Frequently, when marital assets are divided evenly, half the cash value from the policy goes to each spouse.
Protecting child support or alimony income is really important for the spouse who takes primary custody of the children after the divorce. These child support funds are for feeding and clothing the children and saving for college. If the noncustodial parent isn’t around anymore, this income goes away and it could put the custodial parent in a bind. If you have custody of the children, the best way to protect yourself from this situation is to keep a life insurance policy on your ex-spouse with a benefit amount high enough to replace your child support or alimony income at least until the last child is 18. Being the custodial parent, if your ex is irresponsible or untrustworthy, you may just purchase the policy and pay the premium yourself, since coverage stops if payments lapse.
If your ex-spouse is no longer in the picture (whether by death or lack of responsibility), and your children rely only on you for financial support, if you die, they’d have nothing. Without your income, your children have no way to support themselves or save for college. A guardian, either a relative or someone appointed by a judge, will take care of your children, but there are still many unknowns in this situation. If divorce makes you a single parent, you need enough life insurance on yourself to protect your children to see them through until they reach 21.
Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “How Life Insurance Works in a Divorce”