In a number of my recent divorce cases, I encountered situations wherein one party decides to remove or destroy marital assets prior to anyone filing for divorce. Obviously, when my clients found out, it caused significant conflict and added even more stress to the divorce process. The first question from my clients was, "what can we do to stop my spouse from doing this?"
In Pennsylvania, the general rule for the division or marital assets upon a divorce is equitable distribution. To divide marital assets equitably, the Court considers a variety of factors to determine what percentage of the marital property and estate each party will receive in settlement. This process is clouded when one spouse manipulates the assets or property and decreases the value of the marital estate prior to separation.
If your spouse has begun to dissipate assets, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible so that the attorney can go into court and obtain an order preventing any further dissipation. Examples of dissipation of marital assets include: paying off individually held credit cards; making unsecured loans to friends; and gifting money to family and friends. If you delay in this process and fail to object to your spouse's expenditures, a Judge may later find that you acquiesced to the expenditures and, therefore, will not grant you any relief.
If you promptly object to the dissipation of assets and bring it to the court's attention, courts have the option of "adding back" such assets to the marital estate in order to reach a fair equitable distribution scheme. The main issue facing the court in such cases is whether the marital property was used in a manner benefiting one spouse at the expense of another. Regardless of whether you have begun the divorce process or not, if you have suspicions that your spouse is improperly disposing of marital assets, it is essential that you contact an experienced divorce attorney immediately. The sooner you speak with an experienced attorney, the sooner he or she can take the steps necessary to protect your assets.