Can a Wife's Financial Misconduct Be Considered in a Divorce?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Your divorce court will issue a divorce decree that details the terms of your divorce, including how property is to be divided between you and your spouse. Depending on your state’s laws, the court may be able to consider your spouse’s misuse of money, among other factors, when it divides your marital property.

Dissipation of Assets

In a divorce situation, a spouse’s misuse of money is usually called “dissipation of assets.” Though the exact definition varies between states, dissipation is generally characterized by wasteful or foolish spending in a manner that did not benefit the family. Typically, courts recognize that more marital assets would be available for distribution if one spouse had not wasted those assets during the marriage. Additionally, if a spouse intentionally spends money so that there will be less available for division in the divorce, the court may decide that such spending was a dissipation of assets.

Examples

Sloppiness with money is not enough for you to successfully claim that your spouse has dissipated marital assets, since dissipation usually requires significant monetary waste. Also, money spent to benefit the family usually is not considered wasteful. For example, a court is unlikely to find dissipation if your spouse ran up $10,000 in credit card debt by purchasing groceries or clothes for the kids. However, if the money was spent on an extramarital affair or lost through a gambling addiction, the court is much more likely to say that the money was squandered.

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Burden of Proof

If you claim your spouse dissipated marital assets, you typically have the burden of proving to the court that wrongful dissipation occurred. Your evidence could include receipts or testimony indicating the amount of dissipation and where the money went. Even if you can prove the money was spent, your spouse may have defenses, including that you consented to the expenditures, that the expenditures were made for family purposes or that her spending was simply bad luck or bad judgment.

Repairing the Damage

Your state’s laws determine how your divorce court can repair the damage caused by your spouse’s dissipation of marital assets. Generally, courts may reduce the amount of money or property awarded to the wasteful spouse in a divorce as a way to compensate the innocent spouse for the wasted funds. However, courts don’t have to provide a dollar-for-dollar adjustment and may have authority to customize an equitable award based on the facts of the case. For example, if your spouse still has the money she took from the family checking account, the court can order her to return it so that it can be divided.

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Marital Misconduct & Florida Divorce Law
 

References

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Financial Gifts in a Divorce

In many cases, if you personally receive money as a gift, it will not be affected by a divorce. Generally, gifts made to one spouse are considered "separate property," meaning it belongs solely to the spouse who received it, even if received during the marriage. However, courts may consider the financial resources of each spouse, including separate property, when determining the terms of the divorce. While divorce laws and property division vary by state, courts may have discretion to divide separate property in a divorce depending on the circumstances.

Is a Wedding Ring Subject to Division in Divorce?

Unlike other pieces of jewelry, a wedding ring’s emotional value makes it a hot issue in many divorces. However, the law rarely considers emotions when it comes to property division, so your wedding and engagement rings typically are treated like any other property, even if they are family heirlooms. There are few clear-cut laws on this subject, so the result can vary between states and situations.

Proving Money Is Inherited

Each state has its own laws regarding the division of marital property in a divorce. Community property states, which stand in the minority, require courts to divide an estate equally, whereas equitable distribution states -- the majority -- seek to divide estates equitably, or fairly. In both types of jurisdictions, inherited money is usually considered separate property and not divisible in divorce. The burden of proving that certain funds represent your inheritance, however, will likely rest on you.

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