Adulterous Affairs, Dissipation of Marital Assets, and Equitable Distribution in a Maryland Divorce

One of the more painful experiences a spouse can endure is to devote years — or even decades — to a marriage only to discover that your spouse has not been as faithful to you as you’ve been to them. While heartbreaking and sometimes infuriating, your spouse’s infidelity won’t always have much of an impact on the outcome of your divorce… but sometimes it will affect that outcome in a major way. To determine your rights and options if your spouse has been cheating, you need to speak to a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer.

Maryland is one of the states that recognizes both no-fault divorce and at-fault divorce. One of the grounds for absolute divorce under Maryland law is adultery. Even in a case of a divorce on the ground of adultery, that affair may not “move the needle” much in terms of the financial aspects of the court’s judgment. So, if an adulterous spouse is someone who earns only minimal income with few economic opportunities and little chance of becoming self-supporting and the “innocent” spouse has substantial wealth and income, the adulterous spouse may still be entitled to alimony and/or a monetary award, even if the infidelity was the reasons for the marriage’s breakdown.

There’s one scenario, however, where a spouse’s extramarital affair(s) can have a huge impact on those financial elements of divorce, and that circumstance was illustrated in a recent divorce case originating here in Montgomery County.

The husband was a very successful surgeon. His wife was a woman who he originally met in medical school. (The wife apparently did not become a doctor and occasionally worked in administrative roles in the husband’s practice.)

The husband had a tendency to be unfaithful to his wife. He began his first affair in 2006 and moved out of the marital home. Two years later, he returned and promised to stop seeing his extramarital partner. He subsequently started an adulterous relationship with a second woman. According to the wife’s evidence, the husband contributed money toward the paramour’s apartment rent. He also bought a home in Potomac where he and the paramour lived together for a time.

These were just a few examples of large financial gifts the husband provided to his paramours, including travel, dining, gifts, along with the payment of various expenses. The court concluded that the husband had “dissipated” the couple’s marital assets by more than $609,000.

What Constitutes ‘Dissipation’ and How the Courts Handle It

Dissipation (sometimes called “waste”) of marital assets happens when one spouse spends (or uses up) marital assets that otherwise would have been available for equitable distribution… and does so for a purpose unrelated to the marriage (or to attempt to reduce the amount the non-dissipating spouse might otherwise get in a divorce judgment.)

The law in Maryland says that, when a court finds that dissipation took place, the court treats the value of the dissipated assets as if they were available (and credits them to the cheating spouse’s array of assets when determining the equitable distribution.)

In this case, the husband’s $609,000+ dissipation played a major role in the amount of the monetary award the court awarded to the wife, which was $667,000.

Of course, proving that your spouse engaged in dissipation may require more than just your say-so. In this Montgomery County case, the wife had a forensic accounting expert who provided highly valuable expert opinion testimony about the husband’s wealth and where it went (including to the paramours and their families.)

As you can see, your spouse’s adultery may potentially play an enormous role in your divorce case. The knowledgeable Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC can go over with you the particulars of your case and discuss what legal rights and options may exist for you to protect your financial position as move into the next phase of your life. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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