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Can assets bought during the marriage be sold to pay for a lawyer?

July 11, 2017

Divorce always has the potential to be an incredibly expensive proposition. Not only do you face the prospect of losing half of all of your assets and property, but also possibly having to pay child support and alimony. Of course, there are also the legal fees to think about. A good queens county divorce lawyer can help ensure that you get a fair deal and don’t end up giving away too much, but this type of help doesn’t always come cheap.

In fact, many people end up struggling to come up with the funds to pay for a decent divorce lawyer. If this is the case, you may be wondering about whether you can sell off any of your marital assets to help cover the cost of your legal fees. This question is one that comes up all too often and, unfortunately, the answer isn’t always so clear as it depends in large part on where you live. Therefore, it’s important to look into the question in more detail to determine whether you can legally sell off your marital assets while your divorce is pending.

The Question of Dissipation
Selling off joint marital assets during a divorce is a complex and often touchy subject. The problem is that many married couples don’t have their own individual money or assets, which means that it is often necessary for one or both partners to unilaterally spend their joint marital funds in order to hire a divorce lawyer. Similarly, one partner could also decide that it’s necessary to sell off assets or property purchased during the marriage in order to raise the required legal fees.

In legal terms, the question is whether or not the use of marital funds to pay divorce fees constitutes dissipation of assets. The basic definition of dissipation is when, during an irreconcilable breakdown in the marriage, one partner uses marital property or assets for their own benefit unrelated to the marriage. Unfortunately, the law isn’t always so clear as to whether a divorce is related to the marriage.

There are some states and jurisdictions that consider paying for a divorce attorney to be a valid marital purpose. In this case, as long as you can prove that the attorney fees were reasonable and that it was necessary to sell off some of your marital assets to pay these fees, the court is likely to rule that this doesn’t constitute dissipation of assets.

On the other hand, there are also jurisdictions that almost always consider the unilateral use of marital assets to be dissipation. This means that if you use marital funds or sell off any marital assets to pay for your legal fees, the court could determine that you have to repay the full amount of marital funds to your spouse.

Debts Incurred Due to Divorce
The courts have also looked into the question of how to treat any debts incurred by one partner during the divorce proceedings. Specifically, whether any debts incurred for attorney fees should be classified as a marital debt or individual debt. Generally, this question again comes down to whether the local courts consider divorce a valid marital purpose.

Depending on the answer, any debts for legal fees could be considered joint and thus divided amongst the two parties or the court could rule that this constitutes an individual debt and thus is the sole responsibility of the spouse that incurred the debt. However, most courts are in agreement that any fees incurred to hire expert witnesses are the sole responsibility of the partner that hired them.

The question of dissipation is incredibly complicated, and in some cases, it will be up to the sole discretion of a judge to answer this question. Therefore, it is always recommended that you contact a lawyer and discuss your options before deciding to use any marital funds. This way, you can hopefully avoid running into trouble down the road.

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