Maryland law defines dissipation as when “one spouse uses marital property for his or her own benefit for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time where the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.” Sharp v. Sharp, 58 Md. App. 386 (1984). At issue is also whether or not the party spent or depleted the marital funds or property with the principal purpose of reducing the amount of funds that would be available for equitable distribution at the time of divorce. In a recent opinion by Judge Murphy on behalf of the Court of Appeals the Court faced the question as to who has the burden of proving that the assets had been dissipated. The case, Omayaka v. Omayaka was originally heard by the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County for the final divorce hearing in July 2007. At this hearing the attorney for Mr. Omayaka attempted to prove that the wife had dissipated martial assets. Mr. Omayaka claimed that Mrs. Omayaka had opened up an account in her name only during their marriage and had withdrawn over $80,000.00 from the account since 2005. Mr. Omayaka’s attorney questioned Mrs. Omayaka on what the money was spent on and she stated clothing, food, insurance for the baby, rent, credit card debt, a car loan and the babysitter. At the conclusion of the case the Circuit Court found that there had not been a dissipation of assets because the attorney for Mr. Omayaka had not met the burden of proving that the money was spent for a purpose unrelated to the marriage during a time when the marriage is irretrievably broken. The attorney for Mr. Omayaka filed an appeal based on the contention that he had met his burden of proof showing dissipation of the assets. The Court of Appeals, in its’ opinion, clears up the burden of proof question with the following guide:
The alleging party must first put on a prima facie case that the marital assets were taken by one spouse without agreement with the other spouse. Then, the burden shifts to the alleged spending party to produce evidence that generates a genuine question of fact on the issues of whether the assets were taken without agreement, and/or where the funds are, and or were they used for marital or family expenses. However, the court points out that it is clear that the burden lies on the party who claims that the other party has dissipated marital assets to clearly prove that the funds were spent solely to reduce the money available for equitable distribution.
The Court explains that Mrs. Omayaka’s testimony was sufficient to prove that the funds were spent on the family and Mr. Omayaka’s attorney presented no further evidence to meet his burden otherwise. Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that the Prince George’s County Circuit Court’s ruling was correct, as the burden was not met.
For more information regarding marital property including marital businesses contact an experienced Maryland divorce attorney.