Does How You Spend Money During Marriage Impact Your Divorce?

Author Dan Brown’s wife thinks it does. Brown is the author of many popular novels, including The Da Vinci Code, which was also made into a Tom Hanks movie. Brown has earned millions from his successful books. He married his wife Blythe Brown in 1997 before he became successful (The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003, and the film was released in 2006). Brown is currently worth $160 million. The couple divorced in 2019.

Although their divorce has concluded, Blythe is now suing Brown, alleging that he misrepresented their wealth in his divorce disclosures and also seeking compensation for emotional distress. The basis of Blythe’s lawsuit has to do with affairs she alleges the author conducted during their marriage as well as his honesty about his ongoing work.

Brown’s Business

Blythe alleges in her lawsuit that at the time of the divorce, Brown stated in court papers that he did not have any new projects in the works. However, she claims he had a TV series in the works, based on his novels, which she says they created together. Due to this, Blythe says Brown deceived her and did not provide complete financial disclosure as required by the courts.

Brown’s Mistresses

The other prong of Blythe’s complaint has to do with Brown’s alleged affairs during their marriage. In her filing, Blythe alleges that Brown had an affair with Judith Pietersen, the couple’s horse trainer. Blythe claims that Brown conducted this affair, and others, in secrecy for many years of their marriage. She alleges he gave Pietersen a $350,000 horse during the marriage, as well as a car and a horse truck, and paid for renovations to her home.

She alleges that during the marriage, he secretly siphoned off marital funds to pay for his affairs and the gifts he gave his mistresses. These gifts diminished their marital assets. She argues that by using marital assets for the affairs without her knowledge, he diminished the total value of their net worth for the purpose of having affairs. When they divorced, she did not receive a fair share because some of the funds had been given away or used for the affairs.

Financial Disclosures and Divorce

Financial disclosures are required during divorce. There is no way to create a fair division of assets and debts without first understanding exactly what those assets and debts are. Each state requires that both spouses complete a financial disclosure affidavit that must be sworn to as accurate. Filing an incorrect financial disclosure form or “forgetting” to include assets can result in being held in contempt of court, which can lead to fines as well as jail time.

In Brown’s case, his wife alleges he was not upfront about his business dealings and projects when he made his financial disclosures during the divorce. A TV series is a significant asset, even one that is in development. Failing to disclose such a valuable asset could reopen the financial distribution of a divorce.

Dissipation of Assets

Each spouse in a divorce is expected to protect and preserve the couple’s assets. This means spending money honestly and reasonably. Joint funds are supposed to be used for joint purposes. Dissipation of assets (also sometimes called marital waste) occurs when a spouse uses up or gives away marital assets without the other spouse’s consent.

Examples of dissipation of assets include:

  • Doing careless things such as failing to pay a car loan so that the car ends up repossessed
  • Gambling
  • Giving away marital assets without telling the other spouse
  • Selling a marital asset at a price much lower than its reasonable value
  • Spending money on illegal drugs

Another category of dissipation of assets is spending money on an affair.

When one spouse has an affair, they spend money without their spouse’s knowledge, on things that the innocent spouse would not consent to spending money on. The funds used are joint assets. If a cheating spouse spent, for example, $1 million on gifts and affair expenses, and then the couple divorces, there is $1 million less available to divide in the divorce. The couple’s joint assets have been dissipated, and the innocent spouse gets less in the divorce because the cheating spouse spent those funds.

If dissipation of assets is proven, the legal remedy is for the court to award the innocent spouse money to make up for the missing assets. If $1 million of marital assets were spent on an affair, the court could award the innocent spouse an additional $500,000 in marital assets to make up for their half of the missing million.

The Fallout from the Brown Case

In Brown’s case, Blythe is likely seeking an adjustment in the property distribution part of their divorce to account for all the funds Brown allegedly spent on affairs. However, there is also the implication that the lawsuit is also meant to embarrass him. Brown has stated that he believes the lawsuit is unfounded and states she received half of their assets. He says the lawsuit is designed to humiliate him.

Brown has countersued. The result has been the airing of dirty laundry by both sides, with Blythe offering details about Brown’s affairs and Brown countering with descriptions of how poorly Blythe treated him. It is likely that the couple will spend more on legal fees than Blythe could be awarded if she succeeds in adjusting the asset distribution from the divorce.

How marital assets are used during the marriage can impact on the property distribution section of a divorce, and failing to provide accurate financial disclosure can also create problems. Working with an attorney who is experienced in high net worth divorce will ensure that you don’t make any costly mistakes in your divorce and that your spouse is forced to completely and accurately disclose all of their financial dealings.


Dror Bikel

Dror Bikel co-founded Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. A New York Superlawyer℠ and twice recognized (2020 and 2021) New York Divorce Trial Lawyer of the Year, Dror’s reputation as a fearsome advocate in difficult custody and divorce disputes has led him to deliver solid outcomes in some of New York’s most complex family law trials. Attorney Bikel is a frequent commentator on high profile divorces for national and international media outlets. His book The 1% Divorce - When Titans Clash was a 5-category Amazon bestseller.

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