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The value of a degree or professional license in a divorce

Equitable distribution laws apply when New York couples end a marriage, provided spouses don't have a pre-existing agreement to divvy up property in some other fashion. Prenuptial agreements are created by couples planning to be married, generally to avoid property conflicts in the event of divorce.

Couples who bypass agreements can end up in divorce disputes over assets and debt, which may have to be resolved in a family court. A judge could decide a spouse's academic degree or professional license qualifies as marital property. Actually, it's the "enhanced earnings capacity" of a degree or license holder that is considered valuable and sometimes divisible.

A spouse who contributes to the educational or career advancement of a partner may be entitled to share in the economic fruits of a degree or a license. A contribution may be in the form of financial support for education or services, like caring for children and home care. The value of the sacrifice made by a non-titled spouse can equal a percentage of the titleholder's future income.

Once a judge decides an advanced degree or professional license qualifies as marital property, the next step is to determine what the asset is worth. Independent experts are required to calculate the value of a degree or license over a titleholder's working lifetime. Only then can a court decide how large a slice of that pie belongs to a non-titled spouse.

Critics say splitting income that has yet to be earned is unfair to the titleholder. A degree or license is not guarantee of financial success. The person can be forced into a profession he or she later doesn't want to pay off a marital debt based upon a projection.

Solutions exist that avoid property conflicts and associated efforts and costs. Philip A. Greenberg Attorneys at Law help engaged and married couples negotiate satisfactory premarital and post-nuptial agreements.

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