Pressing criminal charges against your spouse for theft of your property or money raises many thorny issues that touch both divorce law and criminal law. The very first thing to know if you are considering this action is that you personally cannot press criminal charges against your spouse. That’s something only El Paso County prosecutors can do. And whether these busy prosecutors decide to get involved in what they may see as a dispute between spouses (that doesn’t involve violence) is far from guaranteed.
What Is Theft In Colorado?
To understand whether your spouse could face criminal charges for theft of your property, you need to understand what the law means by both “theft” and “your property.”
According to Colorado Revised Statute § 18-4-401(a), a person commits theft in Colorado if they knowingly obtain, retain, or exercise control over anything of value of another person without authorization or by threat or deception and:
- Intends to deprive the other person permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value;
- Knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the thing of value in such manner as to deprive the other person permanently of its use or benefit;
- Uses, conceals, or abandons the thing of value intending to deprive the other person permanently of its use or benefit;
- Demands money or any other consideration as a condition of restoring the thing of value to the other person; or
- Knowingly retains the thing of value more than 72 hours after the agreed-upon time of return in any lease or hire agreement.
You Can’t Steal What’s Already Yours
The issue in many claims of theft involving spouses is whether the object, money, or asset allegedly stolen is, in fact, “of another person.” Basically, you can’t steal something that is your own property, and much of the property possessed by married couples in Colorado belongs to both spouses.
This is where divorce law comes into play, whether or not the couple is currently seeking a divorce. In Colorado Springs, when a judge decides how to divide property and assets during a divorce, they will group that property into two broad categories: “separate property” and “marital property.”
Generally, separate property is those assets each spouse had at the time they got married, as well as property one spouse obtained by gift or inheritance during the marriage.
Marital property is whatever the couple acquired while married, including the increase in value or appreciation of separate property during the marriage.
If the property that is the subject of the alleged theft is “marital property,” the spouse who takes control of it or denies the other spouse access to it is not technically committing theft since it is their own property.
However, if a spouse steals “separate property” from their spouse, that action could support a theft charge.
Prosecutors May Not See Alleged Spousal Theft As a Criminal Matter
With the exception of matters involving domestic violence, harassment, or child abuse, Colorado Springs police and prosecutors may be reluctant to bring criminal charges for theft against your spouse. Even in cases that involve separate property and otherwise fit the statutory definition of theft, prosecutors may see the dispute as more of a civil matter than a criminal one.
El Paso County prosecutors have broad discretion when deciding whether to bring criminal charges against your spouse or anyone else. But they also have limited time and resources, and a large caseload. Since family courts can resolve disputes between spouses over property issues, prosecutors may suggest that the case belongs there instead of criminal court.
That being said, prosecutors will receive and review any police report alleging theft, including those between spouses, and will consider your expressed wishes that prosecutors pursue charges. However, the decision to press these charges is ultimately prosecutors’ alone.
Considering Criminal Charges Against Your Spouse? Call Colorado Divorce and Criminal Law Attorneys at Perkins Law Today.
Pursuing criminal charges against your spouse is no small matter. It can make an already tense and contentious situation even more volatile, and may not result in any efforts to prosecute your spouse for their alleged crime. (Of course, if your spouse engages in threats, harassment, or violence, or otherwise puts your safety and that of your children at risk, you should not hesitate to contact the police immediately.)
If you have questions or concerns about your spouse’s conduct and want to discuss whether you can and should consider contacting the police, contact the experienced Colorado Springs divorce and criminal defense attorneys at Perkins Law today. Because we are experts in both divorce and criminal law, you can be assured of getting reliable advice in an uncertain situation. Contact us today for your free initial case consultation.
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