Recent Ruling: Property Division Accounts for Squandering

In a recent ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals, the court upheld a trial court ruling where marital assets were divided unequally between the spouses, the division included money spent by a spouse after separation, and spousal maintenance was awarded even though the spouse receiving the maintenance also received the larger portion of the marital property.

On the issue of division and the characterization of the property, the court held that the question of whether property is marital property is, among other things, one of credibility. The trial court is given due regard to the determination of credibility of witnesses and the trial judge is free to believe all, part, or none of the testimony of any witness. The trial judge may disbelieve testimony adduced by a witness even if the testimony is not contradicted. In this recent case, even though the Husband testified that he thought the property in question was a non-marital asset, all other evidence indicated that it was jointly owned by the parties as marital property.

On the issue of marital assets spent by one spouse after separation but before the dissolution of marriage, the court held that the “spending party” can be ordered to reimburse the other spouse through disproportionate property division. In this case, the issue was one or more retirement accounts that the Husband claimed that he “lived on” during the separation, although his salary was sufficient to cover all of his living expenses. The court held that the trial court does not have to specifically find that it believes monies have actually been secreted or squandered in anticipation of divorce, because its actions can imply such a conclusion where sufficient evidence exists to support that conclusion. The court also, even after the reimbursement of the “spent” money and attorney fees, upheld the award of maintenance. The court said that, even though there was an award of substantial marital assets that the Husband claimed could support the wife, the wife was not required to deplete, or “live off” of those of marital assets before maintenance can be awarded or take effect.

The full text of the opinion can be read here.