The Court of Appeals in Herron v. Johnson, expounded on the equitable distribution of marital property that has been dissipated.

Dissipation of martial property is generally defined as where one spouse uses marital property for his own benefit and for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.

Here, the trial court had determined that the pension funds accumulated during the marriage and used by one spouse and spent and dissipated during the marriage is no longer a property for the court to factor in with regards to the equitable distribution of the martial assets.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and remanded.

The DC Statute pertaining to distribution of marital property requires consideration of all property accumulated during the marriage in a manner that is equitable, just and reasonable, after considering all relevant factors including, but not limited to each party’s contribution to the property or dissipation or depreciation in value of the assets subject to distribution.

Specifically pension rights, to the extent acquired during the marriage, are property designated and are subject to distribution unless the court enters an order distributing future periodic payments from the fund.

Here, the Court of Appeals held the dissipated pension funds should have been considered in the distribution of martial property.  Particularly where dissipation of marital property by a spouse was in a manner intended to circumvent the equitable distribution of the marital asset.

Dissipation maybe proven by prima facie evidence that the spouse used marital property for his or her own benefit and for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage was undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown. Upon such showing, the court must distribute the property in question and enter judgment accordingly regardless of whether or not the asset still exists.

Thus, the trial court had the duty to exercise its discretion in making truly equitable awards consistent with legitimate expectations of the parties by making whole the aggrieved spouse of the marital funds that were either withdrawn or used after the breakdown, the burden rests with the party charged with dissipation to prove that the money was spent for a proper marriage-related purpose and not usurped to avoid the equitable distribution.

The case was remanded to the trial court to decide the ultimate question of whether the withdrawals from the pension fund were made in order to defeat the equitable distribution rights of the other party, and if so, to properly consider and award equitable distribution of the pension funds.

This case also demonstrates the long arm of the court in considering and awarding property accumulate during the marriage even though the property that was already dissipated.

Refer to our Washington DC Divorce Lawyer page for more details on this subject.

Categories: Family Law.