Waste And Dissipation Of Marital Assets: How It Can Affect Your Settlement

15 December 2015
 Categories: , Blog

What happens when your divorce turns ugly and a large sum of money that belonged in your joint account has suddenly gone missing? What if your spouse maxes out the family credit cards on a vacation with his or her new-found love interest? Whatever has happened, it's certainly justifiable for you to feel that you're about to get cheated out of a fair share of the assets that you used to have or stuck with bills that you don't deserve. Is there anything you can do about it? Absolutely. This is what you should know.

Dissipation and waste of marital assets are frowned on by the courts.

The concepts of dissipation and waste are very closely related. Some courts consider them to be the same thing while others draw a distinction between the two. When a court does draw a distinction between the two, dissipation is considered to be a wholly intentional and dishonest attempt by one spouse to prevent the court from giving the other spouse his or her fair share of the assets. Waste is then considered to be the foolish squandering of money or assets, whether there was an intention to do so or not.

The courts generally take a dim view of both dissipation and waste and will quite often consider those as factors when dividing assets, separating debts, or awarding support.

Dissipation and waste can occur in many different ways.

There are all sorts of actions that can lead to allegations of dissipation and waste:

  • money spent on affairs or gifts given to a lover
  • claims that a significant amount of money or jewelry was lost or stolen after being carelessly handled 
  • failure to maintain a home or other property to the point where it loses significant value
  • investing in something that has no reasonable chance of success
  • excessive or reckless gambling
  • money spent on drugs or other illegal items
  • money lost due to criminal actions through fines or legal fees
  • large gifts or sums of money given to the spouse's family members or friends
  • business losses caused by inattention or mismanagement
  • purposefully not paying a mortgage so that a home ends up in foreclosure
  • purposefully not paying a loan so that a car or boat is repossessed
  • selling the marital property off for a nominal value instead of its market value

In general, if the economic impact of the event is small, the court won't take it into consideration. In other words, if your spouse paid for a weekend in a modest hotel and a romantic dinner with someone using your joint credit cards, that's probably not enough to impact the division of assets and debts. However, if your spouse ran up $20,000 in a strip club and bought someone a car, the court is almost certain to consider that when it comes time to divide the assets and debts. 

The court can do a number of things to even things out.

The problem the court is often faced with in situations involving dissipation and waste is that it can't divide what isn't there (or can't be found). If the court believes that the missing money is still out there and under the control of your spouse, it can order your spouse held in contempt of court until he or she turns over the money. That may or may not be effective. At least one man spent 14 years sitting in jail over allegations that he was hiding marital funds.

The court can also choose to order your spouse to pay additional support payments until you've received your fair share of the assets. He or she may also have any future tax returns seized until the debt is paid. You may also be awarded the majority (or all) of any remaining assets.

Your spouse may also be ordered to assume responsibility for your additional legal expenses and any debts that were incurred in both of your names as a direct result of his or her wasteful actions. 

If you believe that you're a victim of dissipation or waste, talk to your attorney (like those at Blumenauer Hackworth) about it. He or she may be able to find a way to balance things out so that you receive a fair divorce settlement anyhow.