Dissipation and Alienation of Affections

The Donald Sterling, Rochelle Sterling, V. Stiviano love triangle has been all over the news lately.  There are recordings of Donald Sterling by V. Stiviano, the mistress, and there is a lawsuit filed by Rochelle Sterling against the mistress.

At the heart of Rochelle’s Sterling’s lawsuit against V. Stiviano are gifts given by her husband to his mistress which she contends were purchased with marital money.  While California is a community property state and the laws are not the same as Illinois, an Illinois spouse does have recourse when marital money is being used to fund an extra-marital relationship.

Alienation of Affections

Illinois is one of the few states that still has this law on the books.  What is alienation of affections?  Generally, a cause of action for alienation of affections consists of three elements: (1) love and affection of the alienated spouse for the plaintiff; (2) actual damages incurred by the plaintiff; and (3) overt acts, conduct, or enticement on the part of the defendant causing those affections to depart.

Illinois does have a limit on damages, however, and does not allow punitive damages or emotional distress or damage to reputation.  It does, however, allow actual damages.  In the case of a high net worth marriage, this can be considerable.  Consider Sterling and Stiviano.  Stiviano knew that Sterling had been married for over 50 years.  Stiviano allegedly accepted gifts from Sterling in excess of $1,000,000.  This money is marital money.  Mrs. Sterling should be able to recover the marital money that Mr. Sterling used to advance his affair.

While this tort is considered archaic to some, it is one of the tools in a savvy attorney’s arsenal.  It is useful when a spouse does not want to file a divorce but wants the other spouse to stop spending money of other relationships.


Dissipation is incident to a divorce proceeding, and occurs when one party spends marital money for a non-marital purpose.  Dissipation is limited to the time period at a time period where the marriage is undergoing (or has undergone) an irretrievable breakdown.  In the case of Sterling and Stiviano, Donald Sterling openly dated other women.  He is estranged from his wife.  While no divorce has been filed, to the casual observer it would appear that the marriage is undergoing an irretrievable breakdown.  

Illinois is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the division of marital property does not need to be 50/50, but it has to be equitable.  In the case of the Sterlings, assuming the court divided the assets 50/50, it would then subtract one-half of the dissipated amount from the spouse who committed the dissipation and award it to the other spouse.

What Should I Do Next?

If your spouse is having an affair and financing it with marital money, you should contact me right away.   You can call me now at 708-466-6912 or contact me online. I often meet clients in the evening and on weekends, and all clients get my personal mobile phone number.  Legal problems don’t take weekends off and neither do I.

I represent clients in Chicago, and elsewhere in Illinois including the counties of Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will, Kane, Kendall, and McHenry. I represent clients in uncontested and contested divorces, and other family law matters including paternity, visitation and child support.


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