In music and other popular media, there is the stereotype of the deceitful spouse who, during the pendency of the couple’s divorce, empties the couple’s bank accounts and absconds with the funds. That stereotype exists because that sort of malfeasance does happen sometimes. If it has happened to you, or if you have been wrongfully accused of engaging in this type of misconduct, you need a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer going to bat for you.
One Baltimore County couple had a $100,000 dispute of this type in their divorce case. The husband had withdrawn $100,000 from certain marital accounts. The wife said that the husband had impermissibly dissipated the funds, while the husband said that the withdrawals were related to the legal fees he’d amassed in the divorce litigation.
At the outset, it’s important to recognize a few things. One, in Maryland, dissipation of assets occurs when one spouse wastes, spends, or sells a marital asset for reasons not related to the marriage or to reduce the amount his/her spouse will get in the final divorce judgment’s property award.
Two, certain of your expenses can be paid with marital funds without your being punished for dissipation of assets. Legal fees that you owe your divorce attorney is one example of this.
Furthermore, a payment does have to be made directly to your attorneys to qualify as permissible. If, for example, someone else paid your divorce attorney’s bills and you later withdrew funds from a marital account to repay that person, that potentially is not dissipation. That, according to the husband in the Baltimore County divorce, was what occurred in his situation, as his mother had paid his divorce-related legal fees and he had withdrawn the $100,000 to repay her.
How the Burden of Proof Works in a Dissipation Dispute
The rules related to the burden of proof shift the burden from one spouse to the other depending on where in the process you are. If your spouse accuses you of dissipation, then he/she has the burden of proof at the outset. Your spouse can meet that simply by showing that you made a withdrawal (or withdrawals) that he/she didn’t know about and didn’t approve. At that point, the burden shifts to you to prove that the funds you took went for a proper purpose. The law in Maryland is very clear that to meet your burden, you do not have to provide direct tracing of the assets from beginning to end.
In the Baltimore County divorce, the wife had account statements showing the withdrawals. The husband did not dispute that he made the withdrawals; rather, he contended that he used the funds to pay his mother who had paid sums he owed to his divorce attorneys. He relied upon fee statements his attorneys sent him, along with his own testimony.
While questions remained in this Baltimore County couple’s case, that kind of evidence will oftentimes be enough to defeat a claim of dissipation, absent some other special circumstances.
Whether you are being accused of dissipation of marital assets or you have been harmed by a spouse who engaged in dissipation, you owe it to yourself to get the legal help necessary to protect yourself and your financial future. Count on the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to be there for you. We have helped countless Maryland spouses protect their financial interests in divorce, and we’re here to help you, too. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.