A divorce is a very emotional and draining process that can lead to a rise in tension between spouses. Unfortunately, a divorce can bring out the worst in people. Some people choose to act dangerously toward their ex-spouse instead of working out their problems in a calm and civil manner. A spouse may start to destroy marital assets, which causes issues with equitable distribution rights. Referred to dissipation of assets, this may result in legal consequences. A spouse may choose to act this way in an attempt to reduce the total value of the marital estate. If this occurs, seek legal help immediately.

Property Division During Divorce

New Jersey uses equitable distribution to divide property and assets during a divorce. This helps with executing fairness and takes each specific divorce case into account. Each divorce is different and can be a long process when it comes to dividing assets. A court will consider many factors when dividing a couple’s property. This includes:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s physical and emotional health
  • Ages of each spouse
  • Any income property that a spouse brought into the marriage
  • The couple’s standard of living
  • Prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements
  • Each spouse’s overall economic circumstances
  • Each spouse’s income
  • Savings accounts
  • Any time and expenses needed for a spouse to acquire the education or training to achieve a standard of living
  • Any contributions that either spouse made to the education of the other spouse
  • Present value of all property
  • Children’s ages, education costs, and childcare needs
  • Each spouse’s debts

When it comes to the marital home, is the best option is to sell it and share the proceeds? It depends. Selling the marital home can help avoid further arguments between spouses. The spouse who initiates this request will need to ask the court for permission before putting the house on the market, during the divorce proceedings. If there is a child involved, the court may recommend that one spouse continue to live in the home and wait to sell the house until the child leaves for college. This will help make the transition easier. These are some issues that will need to be explored and experienced counsel can help the parties.

In New Jersey, couples can negotiate their own property divisions either by themselves or with the help of an attorney. If arguments occur, a judge will make the final decision regarding the division of assets.

Destroyed Property

In New Jersey, marital property is equitably distributed between spouses during a divorce. This does not necessarily mean that both spouses receive the exact same assets; it refers to dividing the assets between spouses under the guidance of the statutes and equitable doctrines set forth in the cases. If one spouse decides to destroy property before a divorce is finalized, the court may consider this as a loss against the offending spouse. The spouse who destroys property may receive a reduced share of the property. They could be required to pay for the destroyed asset and could possibly face criminal charges. Examples of destroyed property include:

  • Smashing the television
  • Taking an expensive trip
  • Giving away or selling the family car
  • Intentionally flooding the family home
  • Putting holes in the wall
  • Burning through money
  • Withdrawing money from a savings account
  • Giving money away to family and friends
  • Destroying collectibles
  • Spending money on an affair
  • Excessive gambling losses
  • Substance abuse

Proving Dissipation of Assets in Court

Before legal action can be taken, the court will have to review a claim of dissipation of assets. This type of claim will usually include a breakdown of the assets that were destroyed and proof that they were a marital asset. The court may also ask if the marriage was in the process of divorce when the action occurred and if the accusing party consented. If the action was not for the benefit of the marriage, clients will have a stronger case against their spouse. In court, the accused will have the chance to demonstrate whether their conduct was legal and not a dissipation of assets.

Domestic Violence

In certain situations, destruction of property can be seen as domestic violence. The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) establishes that certain crimes that are intentionally perpetrated against a spouse are considered domestic violence. This includes the destruction of property and other criminal mischief. Even though property is jointly owned until the finalization of a divorce, this is still considered abuse that can be punishable by law. The offending spouse may face civil and family law consequences, as well as criminal liability.

One thing that many people do not know is that these crimes do not have to be committed by a spouse to be classified as such. There are a few other situations and relationships where destruction of property can be viewed as domestic violence, such as:

  • Estranged husband or wife
  • Divorced husband or wife
  • Romantic partner
  • Parent to a common child

Victims may file for a restraining order against the perpetrator. A temporary restraining order can grant immediate relief from abuse in the following ways:

  • Preventing the accused person from communicating with the victim
  • Preventing the accused from coming in contact with the victim within a certain distance
  • Removing the accused person from the shared home

These temporary restraining orders only last for about 10 days before a final hearing will be held.

How to Prevent a Spouse from Destroying Property

The best remedy to avoid this from happening is by moving all property to a safe location. Items may include:

  • Inherited items
  • Photos
  • Items of sentimental value
  • Financial documents
  • Items that cannot be easily replaced

These items will need to be disclosed in the inventory during the divorce to ensure that your spouse will not put them in the trash or sell them at a garage sale or pawn shop. If valuables cannot be moved to a safe area, it is best to create a list of everything owned and take photographs of the assets. It is also helpful to write down what assets were given, what was inherited, and what was owned prior to the marriage.

Seek Legal Advice Immediately

If your spouse destroyed marital property amid a divorce, the best option is to seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer. These types of situations can be complicated, and it is best to hire a lawyer to ensure that all rights are protected.

The attorneys at Burnham Douglass Help Clients Throughout the Divorce Process.

For a free consultation, call 856-751-5505 today or complete our online contact form. From our offices in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey, we proudly represent clients throughout South Jersey, including Atlantic County, Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, and Mercer County.