The Role of Fault in Dividing the Marital Estate by Lakeshore Law & Mediation

While fault plays a role in determining an equitable division of marital assets, it’s generally not overemphasized.

It’s understandable and natural to want to point fingers and assign blame in divorce. However, the goal of the court is not to award blame and innocence, but rather to find an equitable division of marital assets.

In Michigan case law, the general trend is to limit the role of fault arguments in divorce settlements.

Dissipation of assets — a legal concept that is related to fault — means that one spouse has used money from the marriage for purposes not related to the marriage, like money spent on a lover.

Courts will generally attempt to “even out” any dissipation of assets to make it fair for the non-dissipating spouse.

Examples of how courts view “fault” when determining a divorce settlement:

Several cases have stated that in considering fault, only behavior causing the breakdown of the marriage is pertinent in making divorce rulings.

The Role of Fault in Dividing the Marital Estate by Lakeshore Law & MediationFor example, in the Knowles1 case, the court found “fault” after the date of filing for divorce was not pertinent because it did not lead to the breakdown of the marriage.

In the Zecchin2 case, the trial court ruled that the wife was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage because she had ordered the husband to leave.

The Court of Appeals did not agree with the trial court about the ruling stating “fault” is based on the conduct of the husband or wife leading to the separation rather than on who left whom.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the trial court’s ruling and said that the husband and wife were equally at fault for causing the marriage to breakdown. The trial court was instructed by the Court of Appeals to “do over” and directed the trial court not to consider fault when re-calculating spousal support.

Even when fault leads to the breakdown of the marriage, courts are not to overemphasize this factor. Fault is only one of a number of pertinent factors in the court’s goal for an equitable division. Fault is not to be used to punish but only to make things “equitable.”

If you’re facing divorce and need assistance, the attorneys Lakeshore Law & Mediation are here to help. Contact us today and let us help guide you forward.