What Happens to the Higher Education Degree Earned During the Marriage in a Divorce?

Work your fingers to the bone supporting the family while your spouse goes to school to eventually bring more bacon home to the family.

… Then get dumped when your spouse finally receives his or her sheepskin.

It’s a classic drama that plays out over and over again.

The exploited spouse views that degree as a commodity that he or she in essence bought for their spouse.

But is the degree itself property that has an intrinsic value that can be divvied up on the marital balance sheet?

Most states say no, Utah and Florida among them.

What about the understanding of the expected quid pro quo between the spouses?

Well, this varies from state to state, but it’s best not to expect too much based on an implied understanding or even a verbal agreement.

As in other areas of life, there is just no substitute for a solid written contract reflecting the expectations of both parties.

In Utah, a divorcing wife recently went outside of her husband’s divorce case to file a separate civil lawsuit for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

While some have criticized taking this dispute outside the family court, the Utah Court of Appeals held that the wife could press her civil suit but that she would have to prove a written contract.

Not surprisingly, the couple never hired attorneys to draw up a formal legal contract. But there reportedly were a series of e-mails back and forth that may be deemed to constitute a contract.

Of course, even where there is no written contract and the degree per se may not be divisible, there may be more than one way for the exploited spouse to skin the cat. For example, the professional practice founded upon the degree may have a value that can be divided. Or the degreed spouse’s income may be split up, with a portion going to alimony. Or the exploited spouse may at least be reimbursed for the money spent on tuition to obtain that degree.

Read more in this Salt Lake City Deseret News article: Little redress available for ‘support’ spouses.