Friday, August 31, 2012
Elizabeth Morse (Executive Managing Editor, EPJ, Vol. 5; J.D. Candidate 2013) recently published her article entitled, Can You Place A Value On An Education?: Why Texas Should Treat A Professional Degree as Marital Property, 4 Est. Plan. & Community Prop. L.J. 321 (2012). The introduction to the article is below:
Dan and Lily Robinson were high school sweethearts. They attended the same undergraduate university and married a week after graduation. Dan graduated with a degree in biology and became a middle school science teacher. Lily earned her degree in nursing and found her first job at the local hospital working nights in the intensive care unit. Although their hours kept them from seeing each other as much as they would like, Dan and Lily nonetheless enjoyed their new married lifestyle. Dan soon grew tired of his teaching job—finding the work to be rather dull and unchallenging. With Lily’s support, he applied to medical school with the intention of becoming a surgeon. Dan enrolled in a nearby university’s school of medicine, while Lily continued to work the night shift. She picked up extra hours here and there to earn extra money so she could pay the couple’s living expenses, as well as the cost of Dan’s tuition.
After four long years of sacrifice with little time together, Dan received his medical degree. Soon after, Dan announced to Lily that he no longer felt engaged in the marriage and wanted to make his career his sole priority—he filed for divorce. Lily felt hurt but also cheated; what about all the sacrifices she made to put him through school? She worked so hard and put all of her earnings toward Dan’s education with the anticipation that his degree would translate to an enhanced standard of living for the couple. Would she ever be able to get back any of the contributions she made? As it turns out, the answer depends on the state in which the couple is divorcing.
Texas has not formally addressed the issue of whether a professional degree is marital property. Unlike other states, the Texas legislature has yet to enact a statute that provides the answer and, as of this date, the Texas Supreme Court has not made a ruling on the issue.
This comment will explain the different methods states have used to deal with professional degrees acquired during marriage. This comment will discuss the aspects of distribution and valuation of professional degrees, and additionally suggest a solution of how Texas should handle professional degrees in divorce. Part II will discuss how property other than a professional degree is typically handled during a divorce. Part III will examine the one occasion on which this issue arose in Texas, and the manner in which the court ruled. Part IV will examine the states that follow the majority approach: that professional degrees cannot be divided as marital property. Part V will discuss the states that treat a professional degree as marital property, which can be valued and distributed in a divorce. Part VI explains how the states that do not consider professional degrees to be marital property will value these advanced degrees allowing spousal reimbursement for any contributions. Finally, Part VII proposes legislation that Texas should consider adopting to create a uniform position regarding the treatment of a professional degree at the time of divorce.