Dissipation of Marital Property Defined By Court of Appeals

Judge Murphy has written an opinion in Omayaka v.Omayaka that provides Maryland Divorce Attorneys with a useful guideline in any dispute over dissipation of marital property. Prior precedent on this topic has been limited to the Court of Special Appeals. This opinion is welcome because it comes from Maryland’s highest court. Three prior postings published on the Maryland Divorce Attorney Blog describe the context in which disputes regarding dissipation can arise.

…dissipation may occur in circumstances in which the marriage is not undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown…

Dissipation has frequently been defined as occurring 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 dicta, Judge Murphy provides a broader definition of dissipation pointing to opinions holding that gifts to paramours and excessive gambling losses constituted dissipation.

He concludes that dissipation may occur in circumstances in which the marriage is not undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown and/or the dissipating spouse’s principal purpose was a purpose other than “reducing the amount of funds that would be available for equitable distribution at time of divorce.” He cites Judge John F. Fader’ treatise on Maryland Family Law that dissipation occurs when marital assets are taken by one spouse without agreement by the other spouse.

The remainder of the opinion in Omayaka v.Omayka explains which party has the burden of proof, how that burden shifts and which party has the ultimate burden of persuasion. This is the subject of a companion posting on Judge Murphy’s opinion.