Dissipation or Marital Waste – What is it and should I be concerned?

Dissipation, or marital waste, is the use by one spouse of “marital property for their own sole benefit and for a purpose that is unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage was undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.” This is a fancy way of saying “waste” means frivolous or unnecessary spending by a spouse when the marriage is falling apart. Some examples of this are purchases for the benefit of a paramour, loans to third parties without the knowledge or consent of the other spouse, gambling, transfers of property or money to family members or other third parties, and unusual or unexplained spending of marital money. To make a successful claim of dissipation, it is must be shown that the frivolous spending occurred when the marriage was falling apart. In other words, if one spouse was a big spender or gambled throughout the marriage, while it may have been a constant source of conflict or contention between the parties, it was the financial norm of the relationship and would not constitute dissipation. The argument is that one spouse is wasting financial resources on expenditures that do not benefit the family or marriage in any way and this is happening at the same time the parties are having serious marital problems.

Sometimes, the details or extent of the spending is unknown at the time of the breakup. However, once a petition for dissolution is filed, the parties can pursue ”discovery” to get the documents and evidence needed to prove how much and how the funds were spent. The Oregon courts have the authority to consider the destruction or waste of marital assets by either party when deciding a final award or judgment. The court’s authority extends to a number of different possible remedies. These remedies include requiring the dissipating spouse to make a cash pay-out to the innocent spouse as compensation for the wasteful spending, ordering an unequal distribution of the marital estate, awarding a greater amount of monthly support to the innocent spouse, and the award of attorney fees to the injured party.

If you suspect or know this has happened in your marriage, contact one of our experienced family law attorneys to set up a consultation and determine the next best steps for your situation.