What rights do you have if your spouse wastes marital assets?

Divorce can bring out intense emotions. Some people will become cruel and vindictive in the way that they speak to their ex, while others might try to manipulate the situation in order to punish their ex. These attempts often involve manipulation of property division outcomes.

Some people who want to deprive their spouse of a portion of the marital estate will hide assets. Other spouses may go so far as wasting marital assets or intentionally accruing a huge amount of debt immediately before or after filing for divorce as a means of reducing how much their spouse receives or increasing the amount of debt that the spouse has to pay.

What rights do you have if your spouse has tried to diminish the value of your marital estate?

Marital waste: intentional wastefulness in the eyes of the courts

Divorce is not an opportunity for you to point a finger at your ex and complain about each of their previous spending habits. Given that you have shared finances, you both legally take responsibility for those behaviors during the marriage.

However, when one spouse intentionally tries to reduce how much they own prior to a divorce, it may be possible for the other spouse to take this up with the divorce court. This behavior is considered “marital waste,” or intentionally wasting marital funds or accruing debt in a way that does not benefit the marital estate.

Racking up debt buying designer clothes or paying for expensive vacations and dates during an extramarital affair prior to divorce might constitute waste in the eyes of the court. Something like accruing substantial credit card balances covering a child’s medical bill or the household’s groceries will not.

How does waste affect property distribution?

The Wisconsin courts split up assets according to the marital property standard, which means that you both have a right to assets and income acquired prior to and during the marriage, as well as responsibility for marital debts.

If you can prove a pattern of dissipation or wasteful behavior in the recent past, the courts may consider the value of what your spouse spent or accrued when splitting up your assets. If the amount in question is a debt, they may allocate it solely to your ex. They may also diminish your spouse’s share of the marital estate by the amount that they wasted previously.

There are multiple ways that the courts can address marital waste. Typically, court methods involve a reduction of the assets for the spouse who wasted them or an increase in their share of the household debt.