What Happens If You “Dissipate” Marital Assets During a Pending Divorce Case?
In a Florida divorce case, the normal rule is that a court will equally divide any marital property between the spouses. There are, of course, multiple exceptions to this rule. For example, if the judge believes that one spouse has “dissipated” any marital assets, that may be a factor in making an unequal award in favor of the other spouse.
What does “dissipated” mean? It generally refers to a situation where one spouse deliberately spends or gives away marital property in order to keep the other spouse from getting a share of it in the divorce. A commonly cited example is a spouse spending money from a joint marital checking account on their secret lover. But it can also involve something like a spouse gambling away marital funds at a casino or purchasing expensive items and hiding them from the other spouse.
No Dissipation When Spending Benefits Both Spouses
It is critical to understand, however, that dissipation does not cover situations where a spouse uses marital property in a way that benefits both spouses–even when the other spouse may object to the specific use. A recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals, Niederkohr v. Kuselias, provides an apt illustration of what we are talking about.
In this divorce case, the husband received a large cash settlement from a prior employer. During his divorce trial, the husband accused the wife of dissipating the settlement funds by spending the money on herself. The judge agreed that dissipation occurred and ordered the wife to make an “equalizing payment” as part of the final divorce judgment.
On appeal, the Fifth District agreed that some of the now-former wife’s spending qualified as dissipation. For instance, the settlement funds that she spent on “cosmetic procedures” for herself did not benefit the marriage. But the appellate court said other spending identified by the trial judge as dissipation–notably paying the mortgage and HOA fees on the couple’s marital home–could not be held against her. The Fifth District noted such expenditures “not only benefited both her and Former Husband, but were also related to the marriage.”
Speak with a Florida Divorce Lawyer Today
It should be noted that once either spouse files for divorce, a Florida court will typically issue an administrative order expressly prohibiting both sides from dissipating marital assets until the case is resolved. So if you intentionally dissipate assets after filing for divorce, you not only risk an unequal division of property in the final judgment–you may also be held in contempt of court for violating the administrative order.
If you have additional questions or concerns about how to deal with marital property during a pending (or potential) divorce case, a qualified Boca Raton family attorney can provide you with skilled guidance and representation. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our divorce law team.