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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Professional Licenses and Degrees


Term Definition Professional Licenses and Degrees - the piper must be paid.
Application in Divorce In divorce actions today, courts increasingly must be deal with the goodwill value of professional degrees acquired during the marriage, particularly in situations where one spouse forsakes a career for the benefit of another and the promise of a payoff of enhanced earnings as a result of the degree.

Professional degrees have "an obvious personal value to the holder, and while increased future earnings ar not guaranteed, they are certainly very common." In this routine, which is very common ("Nobody marries a doctor -- only a medical student," as the saying goes), both spouses work on the assumption that the lucrative professional career eventually would reward both of them with a higher standard of living. When a marriage ends before the rewards of this arrangement bear fruit, some form of reimbursement compensates the spouse who made the career sacrifice.

All too often, a young woman who marries a medical student and puts him through medical school finds herself shucked and in a divorce from a nowprospering professional, and simple fairness demands that reimbursement must come into play.

Faced with this situation, the courts have three remedies: "(1) distribution of marital assets; (2) some form of maintenance or alimony; or (3) an equitable monetary award based on some equitable principal."

In many jurisdictions, the primary remedy for one-sided contributions to education is to treat them as a relevant factor in dividing the marital estate. In this regime, the courts do not treat the professional degree as marital property, but divide the estate unequally in favor of the supporter spouse.

Reimbursement alimony of a fixed duration is inviting option when the marital estate is small, as often happens when the marriage falters early on.

Courts sometimes award one spouse lump-sum reimbursement when he or she has sacrificed education, career or training while the other partner prepared for a lucrative professional career. In these divorces, the courts sometimes order reimbursement, a special type of support sometimes paid to compensate a spouse who helped advance a partner’s career. Reimbursement is not based on need but on fairness.

In short, courts, therefore, apply a variety of what are called "theories of reimbursement," including making it a factor in property division and a factor in maintenance or alimony. Several favor reimbursement alimony.

In the calculation of reimbursement alimony, courts may factor direct costs, interest and inflation, opportunity costs, career sacrifice and rehabilitation. Behind the idea of rehabilitation is a regime of thinking by which one spouse, "having delayed his or her education to put the student spouse through school," is in turn compensated by being put through school.

A lengthy marriage after the schooling ends argues against any compensation to the working spouse because he or she has enjoyed the benefits of the other spouse’s career advancement.

Two states -- New York and Michigan -- treat professional degrees as marital property. New York courts hold that a nonstudent spouse (usually the wife) who supports a student spouse (usually a husband) through school is "entitled to receive, not merely the value of her contributions, but some modest portion of the expected return which motivated her to sacrifice so much to begin with."

See also Fair and Reasonable; Support.

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