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How Professional Degrees Impact Divorce

A professional degree, certification or license is more than a piece of paper. It is a gateway to an enhanced income and better life. Moreover, while only one person’s name can be on a degree, others — especially a spouse — may have contributed greatly to making it possible. That is why professional degrees can raise some very complex questions during divorce.

Obviously, a professional degree is not transferable and cannot be split up. It is not property in the tangible sense. However, it does have value in the sense that it represents the ability to earn a better income. Often, the spouse who does not hold the degree sacrificed a great deal with the expectation that he or she would benefit from that enhanced income. As an equitable distribution state, New York judges consider this when allocating marital property between divorcing spouses where the professional advancement was acquired during the marriage.

Equitable distribution means that New York courts divide marital property in a manner that is fair under the totality of circumstances and not necessarily in a 50/50 split. The fact that one spouse helped the other earn an education or professional degree is clearly relevant and a court may address it in a variety of ways:

  • Awarding the spouse without a degree a higher percentage of the marital property
  • Assigning the spouse with the degree a higher percentage of marital debt
  • Awarding a higher amount of spousal maintenance

Understanding the economic value of a degree or other professional certification is essential to effective divorce negotiation as well as litigation, should it become necessary. As experienced Nassau County divorce attorneys, we know how judges tend to handle these issues and can help our clients position themselves accordingly.

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