Is a Degree Marital Property?


Is a degree marital property? For professionals facing divorce, this is an important consideration. The following information can help you understand how degrees are handled in a divorce.

Evie's Question: I returned to school while married. 10 years later we are divorcing. My lawyer says that I may have to pay my husband for the cost of my degree. I worked throughout the time I went to school, and the loans are paid off. Why should I have to pay him for what I worked and paid for myself?

Timothy's Answer: These days when one spouse (supporting spouse) has financed the education of the other spouse (supported spouse) and the marriage ends before the supporting spouse either realizes an increased standard of living during the marriage or is reimbursed by a greater share of the marital property during divorce, it can present a complicated legal problem. Therefore, when seeking advice on this subject, I would urge you to work with an attorney who is both licensed to practice in your state and has substantial experience in divorce law. I am assuming your attorney is both.

There have been a number of cases throughout the United States that render opinions on this topic and over time the laws have changed, so I would again urge you to work with your attorney to learn about the law in your state and if interested, read up on the most current case law in your state.

In a landmark decision in the state of Colorado in 1978 in the Marriage of Graham, it was determined academic degrees or licenses are not marital property and are considered only personal property and thus they belong solely to whoever personally earned them.

There is a difference between the cost of an education (e.g., the education expenses: tuition, books, other expenses) and financial value (i.e., the enhanced earning potential of the supported spouse). If one spouse pays part of or all of the cost of an education, that does not entitle him/her to an investment in the value of the supported spouse career after divorce. However, if one spouse contributed to part of the cost of the education, the contributing spouse or supporting spouse should be reimbursed at the time of divorce for his/her contribution to that cost. However, the financial value of the supported ex-spouse education is his/her personal property.

In your case you state you both worked full time and attended school. You also said you had loans which you since paid off, presumably from your earnings while working (assuming your income also contributed to all your other household expenses and not solely your own educational expenses). If you did indeed finance your education with your own funds, as well as took out loans which you then paid off, then your spouse would not have contributed to the cost of your education.

If this is an issue or becomes one, my suggestion would be to gather all the documentation you have including canceled checks, receipts, on-line payment confirmations, check registers, etc. so you are prepared in the case your attorney needs this information. At the very least, it will help you become more organized and can assist you attorney with his/her role is representing you. The only way in which to get a fair outcome is with information and only you are responsible in providing this information to your attorney.

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