The task of dividing up marital property can be complicated, especially when a detail presents itself that had not been considered before. Couples will expect to divide up savings accounts, furniture, and items they purchased together. There is another factor that some separating spouses will also need to think about, and that is professional degrees earned while the marriage was intact.
Medical and law degrees are two of the most common types of professional degrees, but they all require sacrifice, dedication, and financial investment. When a married spouse decides to pursue a degree, it can take years of hard work and money. Is the degree considered marital property? There are no laws that guarantee the final decision, but there are guidelines.
Pennsylvania’s 1980 Divorce Code laid out the concepts of no-fault divorce, post-divorce alimony, and equitable distribution of marital property for state residents. This code established that marital property includes all of the property acquired by both parties during the marriage. It also takes into consideration the increase of the property’s value over time and applies to some non-marital property. There are nine exceptions to this, including prenuptial agreements. The state also distributes marital property on an equitable basis. Rather than being 50/50, the court awards property in what they deem to be a fair manner.
The court also decides if either party will receive alimony, which is based on the duration of the marriage, age, physical or mental conditions, standard of living, and earning potential. Alimony will end if the party receiving it decides to cohabitate or remarry.
Though most courts will not classify a spouse’s professional degree as marital property, they will recognize that the supporting spouse may be in a difficult position if the marriage ends after the degree is awarded. Reasons include that it is too difficult to place a value on a degree, and future earnings after the divorce are not considered as marital property. Some courts will look at the possible inequity of the situation, and permit reimbursement of the supporting spouse’s financial investments into the degree. This can be done through alimony awards and may be based on need.
Some courts have determined that advanced degrees and professional licenses constitute marital property. In fact, the Cornell Law Review stated that the majority of legal scholars that have dealt with this issue are in agreement that supporting spouses deserve compensation for all of their efforts. Nothing is certain in these cases, but the court will want to know if one spouse paid for the other’s education, and if one spouse’s income supported both parties while the other was in school. The court will also consider if one spouse acted as a homemaker or as the children’s caregiver to make it possible for the other to earn the degree.
If you made sacrifices for an ex-spouse’s professional degree, we can help you fight for what you deserve. Contact a Media divorce lawyer at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. by calling 610-565-3701 or complete the online form for an initial consultation. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.
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