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How does a spouse dissipate marital assets?

On Behalf of | Nov 13, 2023 | family law

When a marriage disintegrates, it is often every spouse for themselves. Both parties typically fight tooth and nail to assert their individual interests. Unfortunately, some spouses even go the length of using marital properties for purposes unrelated to the marriage.

This process, known as dissipation, is when a spouse conceals, wastes or destroys marital assets for personal gain, or to obtain power and control over the other party. Knowing when dissipation takes place can help affected spouses protect their rights during divorce.

What counts as dissipation?

Not all wasteful spending automatically constitutes a dissipation. The court often considers relevant factors, such as the intent for the unusually substantial spending and how it affects other family concerns. The complaining party must prove that their spouse’s reckless use of marital funds has a direct negative impact on the family’s financial situation.

Common examples include:

  • Excessive gambling, drinking, drug use
  • Secretly distributing collections and other valuable items to families and friends
  • Splurging on luxurious gifts, travels or hotel accommodations for an extramarital affair
  • Deliberately abandoning a marital business’ operations to watch it collapse
  • Intentionally failing to pay mortgage resulting in a foreclosed residential home
  • Willfully donating huge amounts of money to charitable causes they don’t necessarily support

Illinois law requires that a dissipation claim provides notice not more than 60 days before the trial or 30 days after discovery ends. The claim must also precisely specify when the marriage’s irretrievable breakdown started. Further, the complaining spouse must file their case within five years if they could not have reasonably known that a dissipation occurred. If they somehow knew about it, they must file it within three years.

How does dissipation affect property division?

Once there is clear and convincing evidence to prove a dissipation claim, the judge may deem it fair to award properties in favor of the affected spouse. In some cases, the dissipator may have to reimburse the total amount they hid, lost or wasted. Given the nuances of the law, a legal advocate may simplify an otherwise technical process and work for equitable property division.