Is your professional degree marital property?
Many spouses help one another reach their educational and professional goals during the marriage. One spouse may make sacrifices or put their own goals on hold so the other can participate in a post-graduate educational program in order to obtain a professional degree. Professional degrees – including those in law, medicine, accounting, dentistry, and other fields – are required for certain professions, and can significantly increase earning capacity for the rest of a person’s life.
What happens after a person has obtained a professional degree? Is the spouse who helped contribute to the person obtaining such a degree entitled to an ownership interest in such degree? Is the person also entitled to future earnings that result from such degree?
In a divorce in which one person has obtained a professional degree during the marriage, these questions are often asked. A spouse who sacrificed and contributed greatly towards helping his or her partner obtained a degree rightfully believes that they should be entitled to some of the benefits that result from such degree.
The Position of Illinois Courts – Professional Degrees and Licenses are not Property Subject to Division in a Divorce
Illinois law does not consider an educational or professional degree or license to be marital property subject to division in a divorce. In fact, degrees and related licenses are not considered to be “property” in the sense that it can be taken by creditors or sold to another person. Clearly, for instance, a physician may not sell his or her license to another person and thereby confer upon such other person the status of a physician. Therefore, if you have obtained a professional degree and subsequent license, the degree and license will remain yours and yours alone.
Reimbursing a Spouse for Support Provided
Just because you will maintain “ownership” of your professional degree and license does not mean that your spouse will necessarily get nothing regarding your educational achievements. During your course of study, it is likely that your spouse provided various types of assistance to support you in your endeavor. This can include financial, domestic, and other types of support.
A court will consider the support provided by the non—degreed spouse when making decisions regarding the division of marital property. While a spouse has no right to any part of the degree or license, they may receive a greater award of marital property to reimburse them for the support they provided, to enhance the degreed-spouse’s success and earning power. Alternatively, or if the court believes that there are not enough assets to sufficiently compensate the non-degreed spouse, it may compensate the non-degreed spouse through a spousal support award instead.
Equitable Division of Property and Spousal Support
When determining how to equitably divide marital property, a court will look at all of the circumstances involved, including the support provided by each spouse to the other. Irrespective of whether you are seeking a greater share of property or spousal support in recognition of your contributions to your spouse during the time that they obtained a professional degree and license or whether you are the degreed spouse seeking to preserve your property and minimize spousal support, it will be in your best interest to retain an experienced and dedicated divorce lawyer to protect your rights. This is the case when it comes to property division, alimony, child custody, and any other issues that may arise in your divorce case, as it is critical to be represented by a divorce attorney who understands how to effectively advocate for a fair and just outcome for you.
How Can Rockford Family Law Help
With over a decade of experience representing divorcing clients, Attorney Jim Teeter can advise you as to how Illinois law is likely to affect and apply to your situation. As with all clients who are going through a divorce, his first and foremost goal is to learn about your objectives and to develop with you a strategic plan in terms of seeking the best course available towards obtaining these objectives.
Please call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation so that your divorce lawyer can learn about the facts and circumstances of your divorce, and so that you can learn how we can help you.