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When a couple’s marriage is ending, one person will be held accountable to the other if he or she uses marital money for non-marital purposes.  Sounds simple in theory, but in practice it’s a gray landscape that has to be turned into black-and-white dollars-and-cents.

When did the marriage begin to end?

In Illinois, the point in time that the couple may no longer use the marital money for personal benefit or non-marital purposes, is:  when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.  As it would seem, the point at which the couple starts to no longer be a couple is not so easy to determine—especially in a climate where the two who have the most knowledge of the facts, would not be likely to agree on those facts.  The judge, therefore, will have to “peek through the couple’s curtains” to look at details of the living situation, communication, and other behaviors.

For example, did they sleep in the same bedroom, eat meals together, share living space in the house, communicate directly?  Was it a hostile environment?  These factors can indicate the marriage breaking down, regardless of the couple’s attempts at acting civil in front of others.  The period of time can be can be anything from a short few months, to many years, depending on how long it took to finally take the next step to formally dissolve the marriage once it was in trouble.

What expenditures could be considered “dissipation?”

Each spouse is allowed to spend marital funds on reasonable and legitimate family expenses.  But when those expenditures are either excessive or not for the benefit of the unit, then they can be considered dissipation.

Some examples of misusing the marital money could be gifts to girlfriends/boyfriends, new gambling habit, risky investments, and other purchases and expenses which are not typical for either spouse.  In addition, if one spouse fails to pay the mortgage on the family home and they lose the house, that spouse could be responsible for having dissipated that asset.  In this economic climate, this is likely becoming a more common occurrence.

Even money spent on the couple’s children can be viewed as dissipating the marital assets, if it is outside the ordinary course of their typical spending.  Children are, unfortunately, often put in the middle of a couple’s marital turmoil, and this is one more example.  The court will likely turn back a mother or father’s attempts at spending unusual and excessive money on the children to keep the other spouse from getting the money in the divorce.

Money that is personal to one spouse, such as a gift or inheritance will generally not be counted in this examination of expenditures, but it pays to be cautious even when using these funds.

What happens next?

When a spouse is defending against a claim of dissipation of assets, he or she will have to show with receipts and detailed testimony that the money was spent properly.  If the judge finds that is was dissipation, the other spouse may be awarded a larger portion of what is left of the marital assets, or he or she may be ordered to pay it back.  Care should therefore be used when spending money as a marriage is turning a corner and heading down the unfortunate path to dissolution.