Divorce Waste and Property Division

An English ex-husband has ‘come under fire’ after he admitted to burning down his marital home out of anger over his divorce. This sad event raises the issue of waste in divorce, and how courts can order an unequal property division when assets are destroyed.

Divorce Waste

‘Great Balls of Fire’

According to the Mirror, Paul Duffy appeared at Leicester Magistrates’ Court to admit to a charge of arson at his home in England. Emergency services were called to a ferocious blaze at his address in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The house is almost completely destroyed due to arson. An investigation into the blaze found 27 individual seats of fire, two jerry cans and evidence of flammable substances and petrol.

The fire caused an explosion at the property and the house next door was damaged, although no-one was inside the address. Duffy left, but later returned to the scene, where he gave himself up to police officers and was arrested.

In interview he made a full and frank admission of his role in starting the fire.

Florida Divorce Waste

In Florida divorces, courts distribute the marital assets and liabilities between the parties every day. Judges have to start with the premise that the distribution should be equal. But is there a way ‘to fight fire with fire’ if a spouse destroys marital property?

In Florida, courts are allowed to distribute property unequally if there is a justification for an unequal distribution. I’ve written about this concept of waste, and other aspects of property division before.

One of the relevant factors courts look to is whether one of the parties intentionally dissipated, wasted, depleted, or destroyed any of the marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

There are many examples, besides arson, of spouses dissipating or wasting assets. Other instances of people ‘pouring gasoline on the fire’ include spending money buying a girlfriend jewelry or lingerie, gambling losses, and drug usage.

Some people get ‘fired up’ over their divorce, and would rather lose the money outright than split it with their spouses.  Where this kind of marital misconduct results in a waste of marital assets, it can serve as a basis for unequal division of marital property.

‘Burning down the house’, one of the largest assets in a marriage, would be a good reason to justify an unequal distribution of the property in divorce. It’s Florida’s way of saying: ‘if you play with fire you’re gonna get burnt.’

‘Fire Away’

According to reports in England, the husband had left the area after starting the fire but later returned to the scene, where he gave himself up to police officers and was arrested.

The house was not insured. The house was ruled to be unsafe and had to be demolished later that day. The husband is now facing jail. Clearly, the husband has jumped ‘out of the frying pan into the fire.’

The Mirror article is here.