Division of Professional License or Education Upon Divorce
It is not uncommon in San Diego marriages for one spouse to attend graduate school at the beginning of a marriage and later go on to obtain a valuable professional license such as a license to practice law or medicine. The other spouse may take on low-paying jobs in order to pay the community bills or stay home and begin to raise a family. This arrangement is desirable for both parties because one will go on to a lucrative career and the other will have the financial freedom to choose not to work…until divorce.
What if the parties decide to consult with a divorce lawyer about dissolution just as one spouse becomes a successful doctor or lawyer and they both begin to reap the rewards of their years of sacrifice? The spouse who has not obtained a professional license may feel entitled to compensation for their efforts to help his or her spouse achieve his or her goals.
Although the case above may seem unfair, a professional education or license is not a divisible community property asset, even if acquired during marriage. However, the community may have reimbursement rights for community property contributions which substantially enhanced the earning capacity of one spouse. Pursuant to California Family Code §2641, the community will receive a dollar for dollar reimbursement for all funds paid toward the education of one spouse as long as particular circumstances do not render such a result unjust. Divorce attorneys will advise their clients that such circumstances include the following:
The community has already reaped a substantial benefit of the education.
This exception will apply if the parties file for divorce more than 10 years following completion of the education. Both spouses received relatively equal educations during marriage which were paid for with community funds. The education greatly reduced the educated spouses need for support which would otherwise be required. Divorce attorneys will ask the court to apply this exception if the community funds the education of one spouse and but for that training and marketability, the educated spouse would be entitled to much more spousal support.
Debt resulting from the education was incurred during marriage.
If the parties incurred debt during marriage in order to finance the education of one spouse, a divorce attorney will advise her client that the community is entitled to reimbursement for the amount borrowed for tuition, fees and books. However, if the parties took out student loans to cover living expenses, reimbursement rights for these expenses are less certain. Further, if student loans for tuition are still outstanding, those loans may be assigned to the educated spouse in lieu of a reimbursement right to the community.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorce, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.