Is My Educational Degree Subject to Division?

Not all things are easily valued between divorcing spouses. We are often asked what happens to one person’s educational degree during the divorce. Particularly if it was earned during the marriage. Is it considered marital? This issue frequently arises between young couples where their largest assets are tangible and include their education and potential earning power.

Perhaps one spouse has recently graduated medical school and in residency. The other spouse worked full-time supporting the household for four years contributing to tuition and all of the household expenses. Presumably, within 5 years, the medical doctor will earn at least $300,000 per year. Upon the divorce, it seems fair that the court should consider the professional degree as property. Couples going through a divorce wonder if their education can be valued and then divided in the same way a financial account can be.

Generally, courts across the country, including Illinois, don’t view professional licenses as property that is subject to division. A degree is considered protected. However, some courts will use discretionary power to reimburse a spouse for contributions made toward tuition and other related expenses. In addition, in determining whether maintenance should be awarded, a court will considered each spouses earning capacity and work history, which is interrelated with one’s professional degree and contribution to the marriage.

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