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Can the value of my professional degree be divided in a divorce?

People who have professional or post-graduate degrees often asks the question about the value or worth of their professional degree such as PhD, JD, MD, accounting degree, etc. The facts of each person’s case determines the answer to this question and it also depends on whether you’re asking from the point of view of a property division or issues surrounding alimony and child support.

Technically speaking, you cannot split a professional degree.  You can’t give your spouse a PhD when they haven’t earned one in their name from an accredited university.  You can however, value it, either by the cost incurred to obtain the degree or the future added value that you can derive from the degree.

If for example, a Husband and Wife had a short term relationship and during this time, the Husband did not work and the Wife worked full time.  The Husband was pursuing a higher educational degree and the Wife paid his way through school and living expenses during this time.  Once Husband obtained the degree, he decided to end the marriage and ask for a divorce.  In this situation, the Wife could ask for a type of alimony called reimbursement alimony.  The point of reimbursement alimony is to reimburse a spouse for a contributions made throughout the marriage.  In this example, the cost of the degree in obtaining it would be the amount of alimony that Husband would need to pay to Wife.

Let’s take another example.  A Husband and Wife had a marriage lasting 15 years.  During this time, Wife worked but not full time and was mainly tasked with being a stay-at-home mother.  Husband is a doctor and works outside of the home.  A year before Husband files for divorce or legal separation in Massachusetts, he voluntarily quits his job because he claims the stress was too great.  The parties live off savings for a year and Wife agrees thinking that this is simply a short vacation and not knowing that Husband intended to file for divorce.  Shortly before filing for divorce, Husband gets a job that pays 1/4 of his old salary.  In the divorce, Husband wants to pay lower amounts of child support and alimony because he claims based on his current salary, he should pay the guidelines amount.

In the above situation, because Husband intentionally depressed his income from his earning potential, the value of his degree is his ability to generate a higher income.  A court can set aside his 1/4 salary amount and instead attribute the full income he was making as a doctor, even though he no longer has that job.  That is because he has the ability to earn that much, but he simply chose not to and therefore his family shouldn’t have to pay the price for it.

There are many more examples in which the value of a professional degree could be challenged in a divorce, alimony or child support case.  It depends on your specific situation.  For more information or a free phone consultation, give us a call today.