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Dissipation of the Florida Marital Estate

While out to lunch, two women were discussing their lives. One of them disclosed to her friend that she was contemplating leaving her husband. The friend, after offering the appropriate condolences for the impending divorce, offered this advice: “Make sure, before you file anything, you start putting money into a separate account for yourself.” But a Florida statute that prohibits intentional dissipation of marital funds makes following this advice a bad idea, and could result in you receiving less in the equitable distribution of the marital estate.

Use of Marital Funds during Boca Raton Divorce

Florida is an equitable distribution state. This means that when it comes time to divide the marital assets and liabilities, the court does so in a manner that is fair and equitable. Florida law presumes that a 50-50 division of the marital estate is the most equitable means of distribution, although a number of factors can make an unequal division the most equitable. One such factor is “the intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets”.

There are a number of actions that could be considered dissipation of the marital estate, including:

  • Spending marital assets as part of an extra-marital affair (trips, gifts, hotel rooms, etc.);
  • Hiding marital assets in a separate account;
  • Using marital assets to purchase expensive items outside the norm of the couple’s usual spending practices, or;
  • Purposely destroying tangible property, such as wrecking a car or setting a home on fire.

The remedy for intentional dissipation is to provide for an unequal distribution of the remaining marital estate. Assume that the husband purposely sold the couple’s vacation home at $75,000 below market value and that, aside from this act, the marital estate would have been divided equally. When dividing the remaining assets, the wife would be awarded $37,500 – her one-half share of the profit that was lost due to the husband’s actions – from the remaining assets to make up for the money that was lost. If the marital estate isn’t large enough to cover that debt, then the court could award the husband’s separate property – normally not available for distribution – to make up the difference.

There are limits, however, to how intentional dissipation of the marital estate can affect equitable distribution. The wasting of marital assets must have occurred either after the divorce petition was filed or within two years prior to filing. For example, if during the divorce you discover that your spouse had been squirreling assets into a secret, separate account in anticipation of filing for divorce for six months before she filed, you could seek to have those assets added back to the marital estate. If she had been doing it for five years, you could only seek the money she during the immediately preceding two years, meaning you’d lose out on three years of wasted assets.

Our Boca Raton Divorce Attorneys are ready to Help

If you are in the midst of a divorce and are afraid that your spouse has dissipated marital assets, the Boca Raton divorce attorneys at Schwartz l White can help. Uncovering depleted marital assets requires an intensive review of all your financial records, and may necessitate the use of a forensic accountant trained in locating discrepancies in financial records. You are entitled to an equitable distribution of the marital estate. With more than 40 years’ experience, Schwartz l White can help you get it. Call us today at 561.391.9943 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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