Did you earn a professional degree while you were married? If so, now that you're divorcing, you may find out that you owe more than just student loans on that degree—you may owe your ex-spouse as well. Here's what you should know about divorce and degrees.
Your Degree Is A Marital Asset
While state laws vary, your degree is a marital asset no matter where you live and the court is probably going to treat it as such. Since it isn't possible to divide the degree down the middle, the courts have had to get creative over the years to try to find equitable ways to divide up the value of professional degrees and to recognize the contributions and sacrifices that the non-degreed spouses often make during the time that their husbands or wives are in school.
Your Spouse Has A Right To A Share
The logic behind the law is that your spouse was there alongside you while you worked toward the degree. He or she supported you, maybe worked to put you through school, maybe just took total care of the house or kids while you studied, or maybe just provided you with emotional support. He or she had an expectation that you would both benefit—together—from the completion of that degree. That expectation doesn't just fade because you're divorcing.
There Are Several Different Things Courts Usually Consider
In a few states, like New York, you can expect a dollar value to be placed on your future earnings with that degree. After any school loans are deducted, a percentage of what remains gets awarded to the spouse without the degree—and it has to be paid off up-front, in addition to any spousal support that's ordered.
In other states, like Washington, Nevada, and Arizona, the rules of community property apply. While that technically means that the value of any marital assets is divided up 50/50, the court is more interested in making sure that both parties have a chance to start over. This could mean that you'll be required to reimburse your ex for any household money that went into paying for your degree as well as for whatever he or she did to facilitate your ability to focus on school work.
The majority of the country uses an equitable distribution rule, which means that the courts have broad authority to try to even things out between spouses. You may find that your ex-spouse will be given an equal opportunity to obtain a professional degree for himself or herself after the divorce, at your expense.
Before you panic about what any of this means for your future, contact a divorce attorney. There's a lot of negotiation that can be done and each side is bound to place a different value on your degree and future earnings—it may take a while before any final decisions are made. With luck, you and your ex-spouse can work things out in a manner that's fair for you both.
If you've decided that you want to adopt a child, the first thing you should do is reach out to a family law attorney. While it may not seem logical to get an attorney involved from the start, it's important that you protect yourself legally from the beginning. After making the decision to adopt, I have been through the process several times. I created this site to help other adoptive parents understand what they can expect from the entire process, including the legal support you're likely to need. I hope this information helps you feel more confident in this major life decision.