Professional Degrees as Property in a Divorce

When a spouse earns a professional degree or license during a marriage, that spouse’s increased earning potential is marital property subject to equitable distribution in New York. Experience has shown, however, that the principle is far easier to articulate than to execute. Consequently, recent reform efforts are aimed at eliminating that section of the law. Reform proponents point to the complexities the law raises, including: 

  • The divorcing parties must employ expensive vocational and economic experts to estimate the value of the enhanced earning potential that the degree or license created.
  • Even with the best expert analysis, future earning potential is highly speculative and estimates frequently overshoot realities.
  • The current system makes it difficult if not impossible for professionals to get modifications if their circumstances later change and they become unable to earn at their expected levels. This is especially true when the professional switches careers or becomes disabled.
  • A professional who is at the start of his or her career is unlikely to have the assets needed to compensate the other spouse for the lifetime value of the professional license or degree. 

So long as the law remains intact, valuation of professional degrees and licenses is likely to remain a complex and contentious issue in many divorces. Seasoned Queens divorce attorneys such as Bryan L. Salamone and his associates are prepared to guide clients through the process.


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