What Is Dissipation of Marital Assets?

One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce is dealing with finances. Not only does a couple have to go through the complicated process of property division, but they also have to go through the difficult process of disentangling their shared finances and identifying what is marital and what is individual property. This process can be very emotional and is a common point of contention during divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, some people try to hide or use assets to avoid splitting them with their former spouse during the property division process. This is called the dissipation of marital assets.

More specifically, dissipation of marital assets occurs when one spouse uses marital assets for their own benefit while the marriage is undergoing an irretrievable breakdown. The period in which dissipation of marital assets can happen is not isolated to after the couple has filed for divorce. Instead, it begins when the marriage began to experience the breakdown that would ultimately lead to divorce. Dissipation is a serious offense, and the court may order the party responsible to repay the marital assets.

Common examples of dissipation of marital assets include:

  • Transferring money
  • Concealing or hiding assets
  • Large purchases
  • Spending sprees
  • Money spent while conducting an extramarital affair

It can be difficult to isolate when a marriage's irretrievable breakdown began clearly. Often couples have different opinions on when this occurred. For example, one spouse may cite the breakdown occurring while they were still married, while the other may believe it didn't happen until they had officially separated. Because of this, dissipation claims can be difficult to handle.

Filing a Motion of Intent to Claim Dissipation

If you believe that your spouse has dissipated marital assets, you need to speak with an attorney experienced in dissipation cases. In Illinois, there is a very strict process for filing a motion of intent to claim dissipation. Claims must be filed within a very specific time period, as outlined by Section 503 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Section 503 covers the disposition of property and debts.

According to Section 503, a notice of intent to claim dissipation must be given 30 days after discovery closes or no later than 60 days before trial, whichever is later. Furthermore, the Act also stipulates that "no dissipation of marital assets will be deemed to have occurred prior to 3 years after the party claiming dissipation knew or should have known of the dissipation, but in no event prior to 5 years before the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage."

Your lawyer can help you navigate this process and help ensure that your motion is filed correctly.

Asset Tracing

Part of the process of proving a dissipation of marital assets claim is investigating or tracing the assets. This must be done to collect evidence of the dissipation. When tracing assets, your lawyer is looking for evidence of when and to what extent dissipation occurred. This can be a very involved process, and a detailed look at all financial transactions will be necessary.

Documents and accounts that are often reviewed when investigating dissipation include:

  • Bank records and statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Paystubs
  • Retirement accounts, including IRAs and 401ks
  • Investment accounts
  • Tax documents

What to Do If You Are Accused of Dissipation

Just because someone is accused of dissipating marital assets does not mean that they are guilty. In some situations, one spouse may erroneously believe that the other spouse dissipated marital assets when they, in fact, did not. Regardless of whether you know yourself to be innocent, you must contact a trusted lawyer right away if you are accused of dissipation. A skilled attorney can help you defend yourself against these claims.

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