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.
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.
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.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.