Understanding "Dissipation" of Marital Assets in Florida Divorce Cases

Understanding "Dissipation" of Marital Assets in Florida Divorce Cases

At The Law Offices of Lindsay B. Haber, we specialize in family law and are committed to providing you with comprehensive guidance throughout your divorce process. One important aspect of divorce cases in Florida is the principle of "equitable distribution." This means that if the divorcing parties cannot agree on how to divide their assets and liabilities, a judge will order a fair and just distribution of those assets.

Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equal distribution. Instead, the court considers various factors to determine what constitutes the fairest division of assets. One such factor is the concept of "dissipation" or the intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets. Dissipation refers to a situation where one spouse, without the other's consent, uses marital funds or property for their own benefit and for purposes unrelated to the marriage.

It is important to note that for an act to qualify as dissipation under Florida law, it must occur after the filing of a divorce petition or within the two-year period prior to the filing. Dissipation is not limited to situations where one spouse withdraws money from a marital account or sells a marital asset. Not every financial transaction qualifies as dissipation.

To illustrate this concept further, let's take a look at a recent decision by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals in the case of Welton v. Welton. In this case, the husband filed for divorce from his wife, and during the pending divorce case, he unilaterally withdrew $130,000 from a 401(k) account and moved it into an IRA. Subsequently, he withdrew $65,000 from the IRA to pay off various debts.

Some of the debts were solely the husband's responsibility, while others were jointly owed by the husband and his wife. However, the husband did not use any of the money to pay off debts solely in his wife's name. As a result, the husband became debt-free, while his wife still owed $88,000 in debt that was solely her responsibility.

The wife argued that this constituted dissipation of marital assets, and the trial court agreed with her, taking the husband's actions into account when dividing the marital property. However, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision. The appeals court explained that in order to support a dissipation argument, the trial judge needed to make specific findings regarding the husband's intentional misconduct, which the judge failed to do. Furthermore, the evidence showed that the husband cashed out his 401(k) to pay off legitimate marital debts, and assets depleted in this manner should not be included in the equitable distribution scheme.

It is crucial for both parties in a divorce proceeding to avoid actions that could be seen as dissipating marital assets. To navigate through the complexities of divorce law in Florida, it is highly recommended to consult with a knowledgeable divorce attorney. At The Law Offices of Lindsay B. Haber, we have extensive experience in family law matters and can provide you with the guidance you need. Contact us today at 561-463-5797 to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team and learn more about how we can assist you.

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