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My Spouse is Wasting or Destroying Marital Assets During the Divorce

Broken Family

Emotions can run high after a divorce is filed, or even before the divorce is filed when the signs are clear that the marriage is likely to end.  Some people, unfortunately, choose to act out with petty acts of vengeance against their soon-to-be-ex.  If your spouse starts giving away or destroying joint marital assets to keep you from getting your share in the divorce, what should you do?  Continue reading for a discussion of the destruction of marital assets, and contact a seasoned New Jersey marital property division attorney with any questions or for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

Dissipation of marital assets

In New Jersey, all marital property is subject to equitable distribution by a court in the event of divorce.  “Equitable distribution” does not mean equal.  Rather, the property will be divided between the parties in accordance with principles of fairness and public policy, according to a host of factors under statutes and case law.

If one spouse intentionally destroys, wastes, or gives away marital assets when the relationship is already in “serious jeopardy,” a court will weigh the loss of those assets against the offending party.  Taking a lavish trip to Europe, giving away the family car, or smashing the TV may all be counted against that spouse when determining each party’s fair share of the property.  The offending party may get a vastly reduced share of property or even no assets at all, depending on the severity of their actions. 

Not all eleventh-hour expenditures qualify as dissipation of assets.  The court will consider whether dissipation was intentional or unintentional (e.g., a failed business deal may not be dissipation if the spouse did not intend to lose the money), and whether the expenditure was normal for the marriage (e.g., if that spouse takes a trip to Europe every year, keeping to that pattern just before the divorce may not constitute dissipation or waste).

Destruction of marital property may support a finding of domestic violence

The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) establishes that certain crimes constitute acts of domestic violence when they are perpetrated against a spouse, significant other, or household member.  Crimes such as harassment, assault, and stalking can be acts of domestic violence. 

Criminal mischief, which involves the destruction of a victim’s property, can be a predicate crime for a claim of domestic violence under the PDVA.  For a time, it was unclear whether a spouse’s destruction of property could qualify as domestic violence; given that marital property is jointly owned, the spouse was technically destroying their own property.  The New Jersey Appellate Division, however, has found that destruction of marital property, such as breaking down a door in a jointly-owned home, constitutes criminal mischief and thus domestic violence under the PDVA.  The offending party may face civil and family law consequences for their actions, as well as potential criminal liability. 

If your spouse has committed an act of domestic violence, you may be able to secure a restraining order for yourself and your family.  If you have been abused or fear that violence is imminent, get yourself and your children to a safe place as soon as possible and call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.  A New Jersey domestic violence attorney can help you understand your rights and work through any related family law issues.

Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney

If you need compassionate, experienced, and talented legal help with the equitable division of assets, domestic violence, divorce, or other family law matters in New Jersey, contact the Union offices of family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102.

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