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Alabama residents: does your spouse owe you for your support?

Many Alabama residents understand the value of higher education, and the sacrifices people must go through in order to obtain it. Perhaps nobody feels the brunt of these sacrifices more than a student’s spouse, who often is tasked with shouldering an additional load to support the spouse who is in school.

Given the spouse’s support, some courts around the country have considered a person’s professional degree or license acquired during marriage to be subject to property division, in the same manner as other marital assets. The idea is straightforward: a person who supports his or her spouse while the latter attends school may expect that both spouses will share in the increased earning capacity generated by the degree. With this view in mind, some courts conclude the professional degree may be a valuable asset to be considered in dividing marital property.

In cases where courts have included a degree among property obtained during the marriage, courts may award periodic payments or other compensation to the supporting spouse, similar to alimony. The difference is that the person receiving the payments does not need rehabilitation, as in the case of alimony, because that person has been working and supporting the other spouse during the marriage.

Some courts may also consider the earnings increase gained by the spouse with the advanced degree, and may end the payments if such an increase does not occur. In either case, valuation of the degree is critical.

However, some states are reconsidering laws that allow courts to consider a degree as marital property. Indeed, many such laws were drafted years ago to protect women in a divorce. Now that women are in the work force and earning degrees in much larger numbers than decades ago, the laws may be outdated. Others argue the laws go too far.

Ultimately, individuals considering a divorce should consult a qualified attorney to determine whether such support would be considered in their divorce. Moreover, if the degree is to be considered, the attorney can assist in valuing the degree as with other assets at stake.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “After divorce, a degree is costly,” Sophia Hollander, Dec. 23, 2012