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Can my Ex Dissipate the Marital Assets during my Divorce?

By Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri & da Costa LLC on October 22, 2018

Sonuparlak v. Kadri Erol Sonuparlak, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2096

What Happens When My Ex-spouse dissipates the Marital Assets during our Divorce?

Dissipation of marital assets by one spouse leading up to or immediately after a divorce complaint is not uncommon. Many spouses act in their own self-interest and redirect marital assets and money to their own personal accounts or other means. However, dissipation of marital assets is an important consideration in any determination of equitable distribution.  In a recent case, Sonuparlak v. Kadri Erol Sonuparlak, the Appellate Division outlined how courts should weigh the dissipation of marital assets in deciding equitable distribution and support obligations.         

In Sonuparlak, the parties divorced in 2014 after more than 20 years of marriage.  The final judgment of divorce ordered the ex-husband (defendant) to pay $550 per week in alimony to the ex-wife (plaintiff). 

Plaintiff was awarded equitable distribution valued at $481,000, much of it coming from $387,500 of equity in their formal marital home.  The amount constituted roughly 35 percent of the value in the home. The ex-couple had several properties in Turkey, of which plaintiff received 45 percent of their proceeds.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that the judge erred in the alimony calculation. Specifically, she contended that the judge “made factual errors about her ability to earn income.” Additionally, she asserted that she should have been awarded more in equitable distribution.

The Appellate Division affirmed the judge. Regarding alimony, the Appellate Division stated that the goal of such spousal support is to facilitate the supported spouse in achieving a lifestyle comparable to what was experienced during the marriage. The Appellate Division also emphasized a thorough analysis of the thirteen factors under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 in calculating alimony. It found that the judge did so by considering the parties’ case information statements and their testimony about their marital lifestyle and financial needs.

Having found that plaintiff overinflated her expenses, relative to her 2014 case information statement, the Appellate Division stated that her testimony was not credible. It also agreed that plaintiff was capable of employment as she claimed to be a public relations specialist with over 25 years of experience despite being unemployed at the time of divorce. Moreover, she testified that she had a desire to manage the rental properties the parties owned prior to their divorce, and the Appellate Division therefore found that her skill set was “transferable to any number of positions leading to gainful employment.”

The Appellate Division also found that plaintiff dissipated thousands of dollars in marital assets without defendant’s consent or knowledge. When a spouse dissipates marital assets, a court can impose a debt on the dissipating spouse in favor of the other, the Appellate Division stated. A court can consider several factors in making such a determination, the most important of which include the following: “(1) the proximity of the expenditure to the parties’ separation, (2) whether the expenditure was typical of expenditures made by the parties prior to the breakdown of the marriage, (3) whether the expenditure benefited the "joint" marital enterprise or was for the benefit of one spouse to the exclusion of the other, and (4) the need for, and amount of, the expenditure.” The Appellate Division emphasized that a court’s primary concern in dealing with alleged dissipation of marital assets is whether one spouse acted intentionally to diminish the other spouse’s share of the marital estate. 

Here, the judge properly found that plaintiff failed to disclose the fact that she gave her sister $17,000 in marital funds without evidence of repayment.  She also misappropriated monies coming from the Turkey rental properties and her pension and transferred the income to one of her personal accounts.  Importantly, all of the diversion of income took place near or after the divorce complaint was filed.                 

In also affirming the judge regarding equitable distribution, the Appellate Division reiterated the three steps of any equitable distribution analysis: (1) deciding what specific property each spouse is eligible to receive; (2) the value of such property for purposes of distribution; and (3) how such allocation can be achieved most equitable upon a careful consideration of the factors under N.J.S.A. 34-23.1.  It stressed that a court is not required to divide assets equally, and found that the judge in this case properly awarded plaintiff less than equal distribution because of her actions in dissipating the marital assets.            

If you have any questions regarding dissipation of marital assets as it relates to equitable distribution and/or support obligations, please contact the skilled matrimonial attorneys at Snyder Sarno D’Aniello Maceri & da Costa LLC.  Call us today at (973) 274-5200.   

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