What Happens When One Spouse Recklessly Spends Marital Funds Just Prior to a Divorce?
The basic rule in a Florida divorce case is that absent an agreement between the parties, a court will order an “equitable distribution” of marital assets. In many cases this means a 50/50 division. But there are exceptions. For example, if the court finds that if one spouse has engaged in a “dissipation of marital assets,” that would justify an unequal division of marital assets to compensate the other spouse.
What is “dissipation” of assets? Basically, it is when one spouse engages in misconduct by using marital property for their own benefit and for purposes unrelated to the marriage. For instance, if a wife is cheating on her husband and uses money from their joint checking account to carry out her affair–say by renting a hotel room–that would qualify as a dissipation of marital assets. Likewise, if the husband has a gambling addiction and blows $10,000 at the blackjack table, the wife could cite that as a case of dissipation.
When a Florida divorce court agrees that there has been a dissipation of marital assets, the appropriate remedy is to compensate the innocent spouse for one-half of the dissipated amount. To illustrate, take this recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Peterson v. Peterson. In this divorce case, the trial court found the ex-husband had dissipated $14,285 in marital assets–specifically from a 401k plan–after the petition divorce was filed. The judge therefore said the ex-wife was entitled to one-half of the value of the 401k as of the divorce filing plus an additional $7.142.50 to account for her one-half of the dissipated funds. As it turned out, there was a mistake in the trial judge’s calculations that required the appellate court’s intervention.
How to Protect Against the Dissipation of Marital Assets
It is again important to emphasize that not all “wasteful” spending is a dissipation of marital assets. Indeed, a judge must make specific findings of misconduct before declaring that dissipation has occurred. But if you are looking to protect against a possible dissipation claim, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If your marriage is breaking down, avoid any reckless spending that could be perceived as dissipation.
- Avoid the temptation to try and “hide” assets from your estranged spouse by transferring them to a family member or third party.
- Never spend any marital funds on an extramarital affair.
- Carefully document any major spending decisions you make prior to a divorce, and make sure your spouse has signed off on them.
And if you are concerned that your spouse may be the one engaged in dissipation, it is in your best interest to file for divorce as soon as possible. Once you file formal papers, you can ask a judge to issue a temporary injunction freezing any marital assets. This can prevent your estranged spouse form dissipating or hiding any property without your knowledge.
If you would like to consult with a knowledgeable Tampa divorce lawyer on this subject, please contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation.