Dissipation of Marital Assets and Infidelity

The blizzard of media covering the transgressions of Tiger Woods inspired the Divorce Lawyer in me to review a 2005 opinion, Woodson vs Saldana.

Wife’s appeal raised an imaginative claim arising from husband’s infidelity. She argued that husband’s expenditure of over $42,000 in taking two different women on “vacations” during the time the marriage was breaking up constituted a dissipation of marital property. Her argument was grounded on the principle that “Dissipation may be found where one spouse uses marital property for his or her own benefit for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.”

In the words of a recent song, a divorcing spouse may “let herself [or himself] go” and that can lead to extravagance.

Wife’s claim on appeal was denied because she had not properly raised the issue before the trial judge. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing argument.

In the words of a recent country and western song, a divorcing spouse is often inclined to “let herself [or himself] go” and sometimes that can lead to extravagance. In appropriate circumstances, such extravagances might be considered dissipation of marital property.

The issue of dissipation arises in connection with the Court’s applying the Maryland Marital Property Act. This is a three step process in which the court identifies marital property, values it and then may make a monetary award after considering the eleven factors set forth in Section 8-205 of the Family Law Article. Ordinarily the court can only consider property in existence, unless the court finds that there has been dissipation. This is considered a fraud on marital rights. The dissipated property will be treated as if it existed and in the possession of the party who committed the fraud. This has the effect of increasing the monetary award to the other party.

There are two prior postings, November 29 and September 8, 2009 , related to this issue that you may want to review.